Films

Published on April 10th, 2006 | by admin

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Birth

Easily eclipses Barry Humphrie's 1987 feature "Berf", which chronicled one man's doomed efforts to fall pregnant

Easily eclipses Barry Humphrie’s 1987 feature “Berf”, which chronicled one man’s doomed efforts to fall pregnant

By Simone Ubaldi

From the faultless precision of his debut, Sexy Beast, Jonathan Glazer has graduated to the sort of compelling, contentious mess of psychoanalytic cinema that film academics go wild for and the rest of us find disturbing and opaque.

Birth is the story of an upper-Westside New Yorker and a 10-year-old boy who introduces himself to her as the reincarnation of her dead husband. A small portion of the film is given over to determining if the boy is who he says he is, but eventually we understand that the truth is irrelevant, as it and we are consumed by the hypnotic powers of pain and possibility.

Neither a persuasive mystery nor a particularly affecting drama, Birth is a cold study of grief and hope taken to inhuman extremes. If there is a point to this film, it may be to illustrate how closely related these things can be, but there is more likely no point at all. Like so many of its kind, it is a blank canvas of tacit motivations, murky relationships and pregnant silences that viewers can fill with their own prejudices and presumptions. What is interesting here, as with all of these pretentious, high-art pieces, is how oddly engrossing all this beautiful nonsense can be.

A truly inspired performance from a previously unremarkable Nicole Kidman contributes mightily to the awful fascination of Birth; her wildly expressive composure giving depth to the moneyed stillness of her environment, signposting an unresolved obsession that her character must feel for her late husband, which the script avoids addressing directly. Kidman has been called engaging, but she is only so far as she is allowed to be. Like all of the characters in her cloistered Manhattan family, she is muzzled. As a result, her mysterious emotions, while clearly tearing her to pieces, engage our intellect but not our empathy.

Glazer (who you’ll know from his work on the Rabbit in Your Headlights or Street Spirit clips) is a prodigiously talented filmmaker who works very well with dissonance. The sublime and horrific extremes of Birth are presented in de-saturated autumnal ghostliness by cinematographer Harris Savides, while Alexandre Desplat’s score shifts between timpani Christmas tones and subtle, humming bass. The result, like the image of a man being repeatedly hit by cars on the motorway while Thom Yorke croons in melancholic terror, is deeply unsettling and yet strangely harmonic. Birth may leave you disconcerted, irritated or confused – it will, at the very least, make an impression. Whether this makes it a great film, I honestly couldn’t say.


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