Reviewed by: Maria Realf

Even with Oscar-nominated Fernando City Of God Meirelles in the director's chair, it was hard to see how a story about blindness would translate to a visual medium like film. Add in the fact that none of the characters even have names and this could have been a disaster of Cutthroat Island proportions. So it's testament to the talented Brazilian helmer that Blindness is a compelling, disturbing and eye-opening experience.

Based on the bestselling novel by José Saramago (who went on to win the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature), the film centres around an epidemic of blindness that has catastrophic consequences. It starts dramatically as a driver suddenly loses his sight at the wheel - his vision replaced with a bright white haze - and this strange sickness spreads rapidly to anyone he comes into contact with. As the blindness begins to ravage an unnamed city, the terrified casualties are rounded up and quarantined in an abandoned asylum.

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Among those locked up are a doctor (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore), though the latter hides a secret from everyone except her husband: she can still see. Somehow immune to the mysterious plague, she pretends to be blind in order to stay with her beloved, making her the sole eyewitness to the nightmare that surrounds them.

When chaos and corruption prove as rife as the sickness itself, it become clear that drastic action must be taken - but does she have the vision to lead a group of inmates in the ultimate fight for survival?

As you've no doubt gathered by now, this is not exactly a feel-good film - after all, it depicts a world where people stew in their own filth, women are traded for food and dogs feast on the dead in the streets. It's a shocking and often violent tale, with a zombie-like horror element in parts (the 'zombies' being the frightened unseeing, rather than the undead). Yet despite its dark and harrowing overtones, there's an underlying glimmer of hope - ultimately, this is a story about courage, sacrifice and love.

In the pivotal role of the doctor's wife, Moore puts in yet another powerful performance, creating a heroine who's simultaneously fragile and strong. She's ably supported by a capable cast, including Danny Glover and City of God's Alice Braga, although it's Gael García Bernal who makes the most impact as the self-appointed King of Ward Three (his Stevie Wonder rendition providing a much-needed moment of light relief before the chilling nature of his character fully emerges).

In a smart move, the filmmakers hired special coaches to conduct 'blindness workshops' with members of the cast and crew, giving the movie an added air of authenticity. This is further enhanced by the clever use of light and darkness, ranging from bright white flashes at one extreme to a pitch black screen at the other. However, though the atmospheric lighting is perceptible throughout the movie, Meirelles does not go overboard with the more striking effects, sensibly saving them for key moments (think artistic horror rather than rave-gone-wrong).

The only thing that disappoints is the lukewarm ending, which is far less exciting than the fast-paced first half. Overall, though, this remains a bold piece of film-making that's daring, dramatic and different - even if it won't be to everyone's taste. If you want a movie that'll leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, give this a miss and get in line for Mamma Mia! But if you fancy coming out of your comfort zone for something a bit more challenging, then you really should see Blindness for yourself.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2008
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Chaos reigns as an epidemic of blindness starts to spread with alarming speed.
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Read more Blindness reviews:

Val Kermode ****

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Writer: Don McKellar, based on the novel by José Saramago

Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Gael García Bernal, Danny Glover

Year: 2008

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada, Brazil, Japan


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