Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Birth (2004)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

"People don't know a good thing when they have it" is a proverb often applied by those familiar with the way public reacted to certain films. One of such events occurred on last year's Venice Film Festival when the audience booed BIRTH, 2004 drama directed by Jonathan Glazer. Apparent reason for that was the scene that allegedly challenged the neo-puritanical standards of modern American cinema by having adult and pre-pubescent character in a bath together. Sensationalist media were quick to proclaim this film "controversial" and add word "paedophilia" to any article about it. That is a shame because BIRTH deserves to be talked about for completely different sort of reasons.

The plot begins with the death of a New York physician. Ten years later, his grief-stricken widow Anna (played by Nicole Kidman) has finally decided to marry Joseph (played by Danny Huston). But one day a 10 year-old boy named Sean (played by Cameron Bright) comes to her apartment and claims to be her reincarnated husband. Anna and her friends and relatives were at first amused, then annoyed when Sean sticks with his fantastic story and reveals some details that could be known only to Anna's late husband. Gradually Anna begins to discards her scepticism and starts believing that Sean is indeed her husband.

BIRTH represents all the best and all the worst things associated with the phrase "art film". Thankfully, the former outnumber the latter, which is quite a surprise considering Jonathan Glazer's previous film - confused and overrated gangster drama SEXY BEAST. This time Glazer picked completely different story, different plot, different setting and different characters and, most importantly, applied completely different style.

The very beginning of the film - the long shots of New York's Central Park in winter, accompanied by Alexandre's Desplat music score - suggests a film with style and atmosphere not seen in majority of mainstream Hollywood films. Most of the characters belong to New York's social elite and the film tells story in minimalist, almost cold, manner. It takes certain amount of skill for authors to make audience care for the characters in such story. Glazer, who co-wrote script with Jean-Claude Carriere and Milo Addica, does that to a degree, but his efforts were really boosted by very good cast. Nicole Kidman, who resembles Mia Farrow's character from ROSEMARY'S BABY, is excellent in conveying conflicting emotions with little words, while the young Cameron Bright keeps the film on his shoulders by convincingly radiating ambiguity of his character and the story as a whole.

The most important reason why BIRTH should be praised is, however, in its script. The story is handled in a way quite different from mainstream Hollywood - reincarnation subplot is approached with seriousness, and even when plot occasionally sink into implausibilities, it occurs in a way that doesn't insult viewers' intelligence. The characters react to this preposterous situation in a way adult, serious and ultimately sceptical characters would. Some may argue that the convenient plot device ends the film in overtly melodramatic fashion, and that the ambiguity at the end might look over-pretentious. BIRTH is nevertheless deserves recommendation and well-made and intelligent drama, unburdened with cliches of contemporary Hollywood.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)


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