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Birth | Review

Cruel Intentions

Freudian venture taps into many ideas, but there are complications during delivery.

Audiences might want to nab a little Red Sox fans faith before trickling into this-hard-to-believe-in tale that contemplates the mysticism surrounding re-incarnation, which reprimands the debilitating act of stolen identity and which examines the dubious nature of the grieving process.

Despite the presence of industry’s most capable atress in Nicole Kidman (The Hours), a great lioness in Lauren Bacall (Dogville), the creepiest looking child actor since, – I can’t remember when, the insertion of an interesting visual style with Kubrickian overtones and a rubber ducky sequence to spur an outcry, – Birth is director Jonathon Glazer’s valiant attempt at developing and investing much in the treatment and the aesthetics of the film, before endorsing its own narrative.

The opening sequence sets the tone – a faceless jogger making his way around a crispy Central Park, suddenly collapses. This dark, silent shot encumbers the rest of the film with a noir, creepy appeal. Flash forward ten years, and a widower named Anna in a Rosemary’s Baby hairdo is the quintessential face of a person that has found it hard to “let go”, but her interminable mourning gets transferred into an awkward sense of hope thanks to the presence of ghoulish looking-boy who claims that he is her deceased husband. While the narrative tests the patience of the film’s characters, it certainly does the same for its audience, – ultimately the viewer goes through the same exercise as the film’s protagonist – how much you believe in the validity of the tale rests more on the shoulders the performances and film aesthetics than on the thin script.

Glazer’s text is heavy on showing what emotions can be squeezed out of the absurd, and while the characters are put in awkward, situations of disbelief, they are also made aware of the ridiculousness of it all – it makes for some unexpected comical situations. By the same token, the Glazer, Jean-Claude Carriere and Milo Addica script doesn’t know where to situate itself, pushing in one too many possible discussions.

But despite a flawed, nagging script, Glazer makes this, like his first film (Sexy Beast) a pleasant watch. Cinematographer Harris Savides’ Kubrickian-styled framing with slow zoom-ins and zoom-outs single out the glacial expressions from its characters and from everything within the frame and shots of the blank stares of problem child Sean (Cameron Bright) accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s lowly registered score that carries an A.I aperture to it. The Kubrick homage is furthered by the casting of Kidman and Full Metal Jacket’s Arliss Howard.

Birth has a luminosity about it that matches the typical viewer’s pre-screening curiosity, but the visual highpoint and the unusual denouement gets too disturbed by the clinic cold touch. Glazer’s sophomore creation simply fails to build the mystery, doesn’t spend enough time in registering the un-dying love aspect and adds too much of an ambiguousness to the notion of “hope”.

Rating 2 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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