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   This movie has an online cover Birth (2004)
Directed By: Jonathan Glazer


View Count: 1
Last Viewed:2005.08.06
First/Last Reviewed:2005.08.06/2005.08.08

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ldh's review

From the moment i heard about this film, i felt i would really like it. I didn't get a chance to go see it in the Theaters, and with a Box Office impact of just about $5M, i guess i wasn't alone. I also never came around to renting it until now. I had heard about Nicole Kidman's performance, the fantastic score, and the great use of New york City. Well, after 2000's Sexy Beast, Jonathan Glazer strikes again with quite a remarkable movie, although, in a completely different style. This is a supernatural/psychological thriller disquised as a powerful drama set in the everyday lives of ordinary upper class people in the ever gorgeous Manhattan.

Anna (Nicole Kidman) lost her dear husband 10 years ago. After a long jog in the snow across Central Park, he just collapsed and died. 10 Years later, Anna still can't get him our of her mind, but after having been courted by the gentle and caring Joseph (Danny Huston) for several years, she finally accepts his proposal and decides to get married again. that's when a young boy, named Sean (Cameron Bright) contacts her, claiming that he is her reincarnated husband and tells her to not get remarried. At first, it just feels like a bad joke from a very disturbed kid, but as the story progresses, we, the audience, and Anna and her entourage, are not so convinced anymore. Is the boy really what he says he is, or is he just pshychologically troubled?

The film's brilliance is in how it keeps us constantly on the edge, even though its pace is glacially slow. We never quite know what kind of story this is. Is the boy really Anna's husband reincarnated or just deeply psychologically disturbed? All the way to the end, you simply don't really know, and how the story turns has more to do with your own beliefs than something specific the writer and director wanted. Abstract ambiguity is what keeps this movie interesting, and i believe, would make it still interesting on a second of third viewing. Most importantly is how twists remain in the story even when you feel it is about to conclude. There are many characters forming Anna's entourage, from family and friends, to people connected to her through her late husand and so on, and all help form a unique understanding of the world Anna lives in. This is a richly textured environment with lots to think about when, and if, you decide to make up your mind. The only reason why i didn't give 5 stars to the writing though is because one of the key elements of the story, Sean the husband, is never quite fully fleshed out. We really never know about him, only through Anna's rememberances and the boy who clains he is him. This absence in the story prevents us from havng a deeper understanding of the story, especially in the light of the twist. I wish we gained, either through a relude or flashbacks, some knowledge of who Sean the husband was. The lack of some exposition of that character is in my mind an artificial device in making us less sure of the outcome of the story.

As i had heard, the performances in this movie are top notch. Nicole Kidman in particular did an absolutely stellar job with this role. She is subtle, powerful, and brilliant. A scene in particular has the camera focused on her face for 2, maybe 3 minutes, uninterrupted, with Wagner's opening for the Walkiries and she manages with unperceptible twitches and glistening eyes to convey so much of all the trouble and confusion she feels. The last scene at the beach is also wonderful. The rest of the cast is also impecable. Cameron Bright as the enigmatic boy is very believable in either interpretation you end up giving to the film. Anne Heche has a short but pivotal role in the film and is quite powerful in her bitterness. Finally, Danny Huston provides a calm, supportive presence to Anna's troubled confusion, and when he explodes with anger, it's all the more powerful.

On the technical side, the movie is also fantastic. The direction is first rate. Jonathan Glazer knows where to put his camera and how long he should focus on something or someone. In spite of the very slow pace of the story, you are always made to focus on something very specific and that keeps your interest up. You are given the opportunity to spend the time and understand Anna's feelings, which after all, are central to this story. The cinematography is muted and dark, providing great support to Anna's confusion. It also delivers a beautiful vision of New York City. The Art Direction is of course completely in tune with this visual style, showing us an upper-class part of New York, with fantastic apartments and rich interiors, and of course, Central Park which is as much at the center of the story as it is at the center of the city. Finsally, the music is, for lack of a better word, sublime. It's been a long time since music in a movie so enhanced my enjoyment of the movie itself. The melodies and rich instrumentation provide for an eerie feeling throughout. At times, i felt like i was listening to Steve Reich and Philip Glass. The score feels very New York. And of course, there is the Wagner moment, which i'll remember for a long time.

Birth is quite a unique movie with some amazing performances, a fantastic score, and a very satisfying, at least for me, vision of Manhattan on many levels. What i liked most though is how a careful balance is kept throughout the movie about whether it is a psychological or a supernatural thriller. Anyone watching this movie will ultimately decide for him or herself based on their own beliefs. This might be a turn off for some people, but if you are like me and watch movies and be active in that process, not just sit there and absorb it passively, then this is a great experience that will challenge you on so many levels.

- Laurent Hasson