The multi-episode portmanteau movie is usually less than the sum of its parts. If Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Coppola couldn’t pull it off in New York Stories 20 years ago, you can hardly blame Mira Nair, Brett Ratner, Shekhar Kapur, Allen Hughes, Natalie Portman, and six other filmmakers for not faring any better this time out, even with a dream cast that includes Julie Christie, John Hurt, Robin Wright Penn, Burt Young, Eli Wallach, and Cloris Leachman.
Despite a feeble interlinking plot and some contrived serendipity and irony, most of these tales of con men, artists, losers, and lovers come off as acting and screenwriting exercises. The exception is Fatih Akin’s near-wordless fable about an old artist (Ugur Yücel) who’s obsessed with the face of a beautiful Chinese herbalist (Shu Qi).
Maybe that’s because Shu’s face is one that could provoke such obsession, and Yücel’s mirrors a soul besotted and transformed.