Published Nov 01, 2004Reincarnation is a bitch. Or so Jonathan Glazer would like you to think. In his second feature film, the famed music video and commercial director puts the audience in an uneasy situation, observing what it would be like if a deceased loved one returned in the form of something innocent and off limits: a child. Though you're obviously free to detach yourself from any emotions whatsoever, Birth is a difficult film to watch without succumbing to empathy for its characters.
The film (co-written by Glazer, with Milo Addica and Jean-Claude Carrière) begins with a man's death, only to immediately flash forward ten years to the character of Anna (Nicole Kidman) and her fiancé Joseph (Danny Huston). As they prepare for their upcoming nuptials, a young boy (Canadian Cameron Bright) enters their life claiming to be Anna's dead husband, Sean. At first, disbelief is everyone's reaction, as the situation seems too implausible. However, as the film goes by, Sean begins revealing more and more about his life with Anna that forces her to re-examine her feelings and eventually discover that she is still in love with him even though he is pre-pubescent.
With Birth, Glazer not only presents a captivating situational drama, but also captures it gorgeously with the help of cinematographer Harris Savides and Alexandre Deplat's musical score. As powerful as the script is, there isn't an abundance of dialogue, leaving some slack for the pair to pick up. With an array of grandiose shots of New York City in the winter, combined with a movingly heart-rending score, the film could be mimed and still maintain its level of beauty. Most exceptional is their work on the scene at the symphony, where the camera is fixated on Anna's awestruck face for a three-minute uncut close-up. As unbearable as that may seem, considering the intense moment she experienced just beforehand, combined with the eloquent orchestra's poignant music, it makes for the film's most powerful scene.
While it seems more like a director's, and story-based, film than one carried by the acting, Birth contains some strong performances. Kidman delivers some of her best work as the heartbroken, torn widow-cum-fiancée. Huston does a good job as the pitiable and understanding lover, while screen legend Lauren Bacall shows why she maintains such as reputable status, portraying the hard-nosed, sensible mother. Easily though, young actor Bright steals the show. His performance is top-notch as the unresponsive, determined and sometimes creepy boy. Glazer didn't forget to keep him a boy either. Though Sean is convinced he is a man trapped in a child's body, he hides his struggle behind his pursuit of Anna, and sometimes is, in fact, a child (i.e., when he climbs on the monkey bars).
As you may wonder what the outcome could possibly be, there's comfort in knowing that Glazer has left it full of wonder and bemusement. With such an emotionally-charged story on his hands, he made the right move and in doing so, also made one of the year's best films. Here's to hoping I don't come back as a married ten-year-old kid. (Alliance Atlantis)