A young hunter wanders through the French countryside seeking a deer to shoot, and is separated from his father who is also out hunting. Then the young man stumbles across someone washing in a clearing in the forest and when they turn around, he sees they have both male and female characteristics and is shocked enough to run away, but the more he runs the stranger he feels, until he collapses in a heap on the grass. Then an even odder thing occurs as he transforms into a deer, and managed to get to his feet, now hooves, and walk away - but not enough to escape his father, who on seeing him and not realising this is his own flesh and blood takes aim and fires, killing his son instantly.
That is what happens if the Gods wish to play with you, in director Christophe Honoré's adaptation of the writings of the Roman poet Ovid, who had lived around the early years of the first century A.D. (and later years of the first century B.C., for that matter). Not the most obvious source to go to for a twenty-first century movie, but he obviously liked the freedom that relating a story, or in this case three stories, not counting the introduction, about the Roman Gods could afford him. It was a dreamlike experience to watch as Honoré tried to elicit the eroticism inherent in the original material, though this was by no means sexually conventional and whether it would genuinely excite the old libido was a questionable prospect.
Certainly there was plenty of nudity and characters having sex with each other, but this was set against the whims of the Gods, who have apparently not been idle in the millennia that people have stopped believing in them, and indeed are still playing out their myths as written down by the Classical scholars and poets well past the point that you would think they were relevant. That was part of the idea, to bring those ancient tales to life once again by giving them modern trappings, though as much of this was set in picturesque but anonymous rural locations there was little of the legendary figures inhabiting council estates or high streets - and yet, there was some of that here, for visual or social variety as much as anything else.
After that scene-setter at the opening, the camera found its protagonist, as much as something as picaresque as Metamorphoses could entertain one, and she was teenage Europe (Amira Akili) who wanders away from high school one day and encounters the God of Gods, Jupiter (Sébastien Hirel), who inducts her into a world of shifting forms and sexual freedom that may be as constricting as its counterpart, for the inference is if you are following those desires they tend to cloud your reasoning powers and could very well get you into trouble. Not that Jupiter has much concern there, he travels around having relations with any woman who attracts him - mortal women, who seem to be irresistible to the deities like himself and his offspring such as the sinister, controlling Bacchus (Damien Chapelle) who commands his own harem.
This was as much about how hard to grasp the motives behind the creation of those myths were so long after they had initially been dreamt up as it was about any modern take on relationships that were more interested in getting your end away than anything more substantial. If that actually does sound substantial enough to you, this film was sceptical you had thought the situation through as time and again desire brings downfall and the differences between the genders prove a gulf that they can both bridge and open up with impossible to satisfy needs. The transgendered were present as well, yet regarded as a third sex, somewhere between man and woman since they had experienced life as both, and connected to the Gods turning people into playthings when a simple human could be transformed into an "other" (such as an animal or plant) in the blink of an eye, without hope of reversal. Mostly, however, you would let this drift by as although there were nasty or confrontational moments there was a contemplative air to Metamorphoses, proving both bizarre and mellow.