Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: N/A
DO YOU believe in reincarnation? It's a question worth asking
yourself before entering Birth, a quietly haunting exploration
of the subject that is likely to divide audiences straight down
Having already garnered notoriety for being booed at Venice,
Jonathan Glazer's film is sure to provoke equally fiery debate
over here, yet to dismiss it as something which seeks controversy
for the sake of it would be missing the point entirely.
The film stars Nicole Kidman as Anna, a young widow who is on
the verge of beginning a new life, with a new love, when a solemn
little boy appears before her, claiming to be the reincarnation
of her dead husband, Sean.
At first dismissive of such ludicrous claims, Anna finds herself
increasingly drawn towards the possibility, particularly as the
boy in question - whom she has never set eyes on before - seems
to know so much about her relationship with Sean.
And in spite of the misgivings of friends and family, she finds
herself falling in love with the boy, thereby embarking on a journey
of heartbreaking emotional discovery that impacts upon the lives
of everyone around her.
Far from being a sensationalist affair, however, Glazer's movie
sets out to become a strangely haunting fairytale which deals
with many of its subjects on a metaphysical level.
It also treats its audience as adults, offering no easy answers
to the themes of love, mortality and the unknown it explores.
As such, it rates as a very brave follow-up to Sexy Beast for
director, Glazer, who steeps his New York setting in an almost
mystical, ethereal quality that should captivate viewers from
Beginning with a quite beautiful tracking shot of a lone jogger
running through a snowy Central Park, who turns out to be Sean
just prior to his demise, the film then juxtaposes the death with
a birth scene, as the young Sean is born into the world.
Jumping forward ten years, the still-grieving
Anna has just announced her engagement to Joseph (Danny Huston),
only to discover the young boy (Cameron Bright) in her home, warning
her against the marriage union.
Their subsequent relationship finds Anna hopelessly drawn towards
Sean's quiet confidence, to the point at which they share a bath
together and she kisses him.
And it is during such moments that Glazer's film is sure to provoke
the most furious debate.
For while sensitively shot, I'm not sure whether they needed
to show it at all, particularly as the issue of sex and Sean's
ability to satisfy Anna's needs has already been discussed.
It makes the viewer feel uncomfortably awkward and threatens
to undermine the good work that has come before it, when Glazer
relies on the power of imagination and subtlety to make his points.
That said, the film remains an undeniably powerful and moving
experience, steeped in emotion and challenging subject matter.
And the performances are uniformly excellent, with Kidman, especially,
heartbreaking in her restrained depiction of grief and confusion.
A scene in which Glazer trains the camera on her face, and holds
it there for over a minute as she attempts to take in what is
happening to her, is astonishing, particularly as Kidman doesn't
have to say anything to convey her tortured emotions.
It is a dignified, unshowy performance, which deserves every
Yet Bright, too, is compelling as the ten-year-old Sean, deftly
combining an eerie, haunting quality with the single-minded confidence
needed to convince Anna of his claims.
It helps to ensure that the film functions just as effectively
as a mystery, as it does an exploration of the after-life and
the possibility of reincarnation (it was co-written by Jean-Claude
Carriere, who has previously collaborated with the Dalai Lama
on two books).
Viewers who are therefore prepared to enter with an open mind
are urged to see it, for Birth certainly delivers one of the year's
most interesting debates.
It is a brilliant piece of work that succeeds in spite of its