Birth (2004) * 1/2
Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Written by Jean-Claude Carričre, Milo Addica and Mr. Glazer. Photography, Harris Savides. Editing, Sam Sneade, Claus Wehlisch. Music, Alexandre Desplat. Production design, Kevin Thompson. Producers, Jean-Louis Piel, Nick Morris, Lizie Gower. A Fine Line Features release. 100 minutes. R. Cast: Nicole Kidman (Anna), Cameron Bright (Young Sean), Danny Huston (Joseph), Lauren Bacall (Eleanor), Alison Elliot (Laura), Arliss Howard (Bob), Michael Desautels (Sean), Anne Heche (Clara), Peter Stormare (Clifford).
The film --a fantasy,-- is a rather macabre version of “When I grow up I’ll marry Mom.” The opening sequence is a marvel of photography and music as it follows a lone jogger running in wintry New York’s Central Park… and suddenly keels over, dead.
He is Sean, a doctor married to Anna (Kidman.)
Cut to 10 years later. Anna, still in love with the late Sean, after ages of refusing to remarry, finally accepts her friend Joseph’s persistent offers. He, Joseph is played by Danny Huston, son of the great John Huston, grandson of the great Walter Huston.
Unexpectedly, a 10-year old called Sean, appears and declares that he is the late Sean. Interestingly, the word “reincarnation” is not used.
All that takes place in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, in a ritzy but depressing appartment , crowded by friends and relatives during a suffocating party.
The movie proceeds in a combination of soulful stuff along with a refusal to give us explanations. Heavy, heavy. Slow-paced and tiresome. Perhaps, for many viewers, a D.O.A. flick. (That’s “Dead on Arrival.) Murky, murky. Eventually relieved temporarily by Anna joining (late) Joseph during a concert of Wagner-like music. We never see the performers. The camera stays on Anna whose subtle changes of expressions is a true tour-de-force.
But then, that part is the last to hold any major interest, at last for this critic. The rest of the picture focuses on the somewhat pudgy and definitely expressionless Sean the Kid. I will not disclose the developments, such as they are, or where and how Anna is affected, or some surprises involving Anna’s late husband and … Enough is enough.
It is worth knowing that the movie is the second one by Jonathan Glazer, who came from making commercials. His gangster story “Sexy Beast” (2000) was well-received. (I have not seen it).
What’s also notable is that the main (or best known) writer of “Birth,” is the veteran French scripter Jean-Claude Carriere, one of the best in the world and the writer for over 120 films, including the last six by the late, very great, always Surrealistic Luis Bunuel: Belle de Jour, This Obscure Object of Desire, The Phantom of Liberty, The Diary of a Chambermaid, The Milky Way, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
I really wonder what and how much of “Birth” belongs to Mr. Carriere –and for sure I’ll ask him if I see him. There’s no need to wonder about Ms. Kidman. She does her stuff very well but even so, her demanding role cannot by itself save the movie.