Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Hollywood has long had a problem with fantastique cinema; those who could happily accept The Exorcist's demonic possession - once all the other possibilities had been systematically eliminated, of course - were nonplussed by The Shining. Too much about Jack Torrance's breakdown and connection with the Overlook Hotel "didn't make sense"

This is the tension facing Birth director Jonathan Glazer. He has a story, co-authored by Le Retour de Martin Guerre writer and frequent Luis Bunuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carriere (Belle de Jour, That Obscure Object of Desire, etc), that could work either way, as a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) shows up at a woman's (Nicole Kidman) engagement party and tells her that he's her dead husband, apparently in possession of information that only the deceased could have known.

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Three opening fragments establish the interpretive work required of the audience: a voice-over in which an unidentified speaker announces that, despite being a firm believer in the material world, were his wife to die and then, 10 years later, a bird alighted beside him and announced she was Anna, he'd be forced to believe her; a black-clad man jogging through a snow-covered Central Park, entering a dark tunnel and collapsing, dead; and a baby being born.

Unfortunately what we get after close on 90 minutes of quality build-up - a controlled mise-en-scene that emphasises the unease in even the most mundane of occurrences, showcasing Glazer's definite talent with actors (already established with Sexy Beast), even if one feels that Helen Hunt, Anne Heche and Lauren Bacall are somewhat underused in what is essentially Kidman's film - is a convenient 11th hour resolution that provides a sort-of-rational explanation and thereby cheats the spectator, who has bought into the film's game, whether by accepting the opening birth and death as connected events - a reminder that montage etymologically implies assemblage; "making things up" - or reading intertextual allusions to Rosemary's Baby in Anna's sprawling Manhattan apartment and gamine hairdo.

Thus, the film emerges as neither fantastique nor horror, too weird and declasse respectively, but as a disappointing, mundane psychological drama, more serious and sophisticated as far as Hollywood is concerned. It is only vestigially worthwhile for the boldness inherent in the developing relationship between the boy - on this showing Bright could well be the next Elijah Wood, or Haley Joel Osment - and a 35-year-old woman, with its inevitable tightrope walk along the fine line between amour fou and prurient paedophiliac interest, when the mismatched couple talk about "it", or he strips off to join her in the bath.

Worryingly Glazer's next project is a remake of the Japanese horror Chaos, precisely the sort of project that is likely to require a no-nonsense, unashamed genre sensibility.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2004
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Birth packshot
A woman is convinced that a boy is the reincarnation of her husband.
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Director: Jonathan Glazer

Writer: Jonathan Glazer, Jean-Claude Carriere, Milo Addica

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Helen Hunt, Anne Heche, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston

Year: 2004

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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