-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
copyright © 2001 - 2005 VideoVista
cast: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, and Anne Heche
director: Jonathan Glazer
100 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
EIV DVD Region 2 rental / retail
Also available to rent on video
reviewed by Andrew Hook
I should preface this review by stating that I like art films. I enjoy films which toy
with an audience's perception and which contain psychological insights into their characters
without having to blow buildings up to do so. So I approached Birth with some
enthusiasm and an open mind, and that's where things started to go wrong.
Many of the other reviews I've seen have described the subtle and understated pace of
the movie. Let's take a look at the opening scene: a tracking shot follows a man jogging
through a snow-filled park. Entering the mouth of a tunnel he dies of natural causes.
The next shot is of a baby being born underwater. The caption: "ten years later"
fills the screen. There's subtlety for you!
The central premise of this movie is that ten years after her husband's death Anna (Nicole
Kidman) has become engaged to her new love, Joseph (Danny Hutson). At her birthday party
a ten-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) arrives and announces that he is Sean - her dead
husband reincarnated. The remainder of the movie is concerned with how Anna deals with
his persistent affirmations of this belief, as she gradually succumbs to believing it
Jonathan Glazer's direction is incredibly noncommittal. One wonders if he knew why he
was making the film. In its favour, Birth doesn't work the easy supernatural
route, but instead takes the psychological path. However, where this could have been
an effective examination of Anna's inability to get over the loss of her husband, the
movie is undermined because we have not seen her previous relationship. We know nothing
about Sean at all before he died - either visually in flashback or in conversation. There
are also no telltale signs that her relationship with Joseph is a cover-up for her grief.
It is therefore quite impossible for the viewer to connect with Anna. Compounding this
difficulty we also know nothing of the boy prior to him making his assertion. The film
is devoid of genuine emotion, and due to the lack of any emotional context we find that
we simply do not care whether the boy is Sean or not.
Cameron Bright is adequate in his role, although he has to do little other than look
overly serious and repeat his belief. But there is no chemistry between him and Anna.
And even if we accept the assumption that Anna has convinced herself that he is Sean,
then the subsequent suggestion that she might 'fall in love with him all over again' is
high farce. Regardless of any other considerations, he is a ten-year-old boy. Perhaps
the suggestion is that love transcends appearances. That love can exist completely without
any physical attraction. But if so then the film is solely a metaphor. It needs to be
more than that.
Anna's extended family, currently - conveniently - are all living under one roof (the
movie is reminiscent of a stageplay), and do almost nothing to actively dissuade her
from her feelings. Lauren Bacall is the most convincing, with touches of humour at the
situation beneath her stoic appearance, but it falls to Joseph to finally release some
tension despite his actions working against him.
Whilst it might be acceptable to consider that the movie is simply a flawed thesis on
guilt, the pivotal role of Anne Heche, and the nature of her previous relationship with
the dead Sean, subsequently throws everything into confusion. Glazer seems to believe
that flipping the movie on its head can turn our perception inside out, but this is where
logic and incredulity collide, further undermining any interest which might have been
So the film fails on all levels except for the beautiful cinematography, and the excellent
musical score by Alexandre Desplat. It attempts to be a Bergmanesque psychological study,
but without that director's touch we are left with stilted parlour scenes, lengthy shots
of people looking blank, and obscure metaphors. For this movie to work we have to be
convinced that either the boy or Anna believe wholeheartedly in the premise. And we
don't. We don't to such a degree that it becomes laughable.
There are movies, such as the excellent
which are open to numerous interpretations and reinterpretations. Birth falls
into that camp but due to its total implausibility, monumentally inert acting, and
nonsensical contradictory plotting, the main discussion after viewing is over how good
it could have been. If only this was the examination of grief, bewilderment, perception
and enchantment that it purports to be. Instead we're left with the slops.