The topic of reincarnation is one that has fascinated people for a long time. The idea that someone who has passed away can come back to life in another form is captivating, if somewhat creepy. In Jonathan Glaser’s (“Sexy Beast”) sophomore effort, we are presented the unusual story of a woman and a boy, and we are tempted to make up our minds on what is believable, and what is possible. It was almost as if Glaser was handing me this film, and asking me: “What do you think?”Anna (Nicole Kidman) is preparing herself for her second marriage, to a successful businessman (Danny Huston). However, while Anna is attending her mother’s birthday party, a strikingly handsome and mature boy (Cameron Bright) enters the apartment, claiming that he is Anna’s late husband, Sean. Anna is soon plagued and seduced by the likelihood that this child could, in fact, be the love of her life.
"It's not possible. Is it?"
Nicole Kidman is predictably excellent as Anna. As always, Kidman gives her character warmth and humanity, even if it is not there on the written page. As mentioned by other critics before me, Kidman has a breathtaking scene, set in an opera house. The camera holds a tight shot on her for several minutes, while expressions of puzzlement, anger, and maybe even relief, pass across her face. She doesn’t say a word in this scene, but I could tell what she was thinking. Canadian newcomer Cameron Bright ("Godsend") is alarmingly good in the demanding role of Sean. While there are some talented child actors (like, say, Haley Joel Osment), a good portion of them wear there emotions on their sleeve. In other words, they don’t understand the concept of subtlety, and therefore resort to histrionics, rather than serious dramatic choices. Bright understands his character, and handles it as well as any adult actor I’ve ever seen.
Anne Heche, with very little screen time, is powerful as Claire, a woman who may very well have something to do with all of this. Lauren Bacall (“The Mirror Has Two Faces”) is given slightly less to work with than Heche, but makes just as much of an impact. She is solid as Anna’s mother, and is also given some very funny lines. Danny Huston is very good as Joseph, but the character is thinly written. I was not given a sense of this man, nor was I given a reason to care about his outcome. It is to Huston’s credit that his character holds acceptable weight. Rounding out the impressive ensemble is Cara Seymour (“Adaptation”) and Ted Levine (“The Silence of the Lambs”), as Sean’s concerned parents, also Peter Stromare (“Fargo”), Alison Elliott (“The Spitfire Grill”), and Arliss Howard (“A Map of the World”).
Jonathan Glaser’s treatment of the material is, for lack of a better term, brave. This is not easy substance to make sense of, or to grasp with respect. Another notable scene is when Anna is lounging in her bathtub, when Sean enters. He systematically undresses and gets in, with her. She stares at him, and then asks, “What are you doing”? In lesser hands, this would have come off as comical. But Glaser, as well as his two lead actors, are mature enough to comprehend this situation and its place in the story. Alexandre Desplat’s (“Girl with a Pearl Earring”) musical score isn’t what I expected it to be. In fact, it’s better. If there’s anything missing from the screenplay (written by Milo Addica, Jean-Claude Carrière, and Glaser), it would be a solid decision as to whether or not there is a supernatural element involved. There is evidence to support both options, but to give more away would be ill-advised.“Birth” isn’t easy to like, nor does it give easy answers. Instead, the viewer is drawn into a net where nothing is exactly what it appears to be. Unlike so many others, I was not disappointed by the ending. In fact, even after the story’s true colors began to show at the beginning of the third act, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something darker, something more sinister, underneath. With its complex nature and undeniably immaculate production values, "Birth" is one of the more misunderstood films of the year.
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originally posted: 01/09/05 17:40:20