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Birth (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

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 the middle.

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 the outset.

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 plaudit going.

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 failings.

 

 

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