By Liv Lewitschnik
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Reincarnation Game

This article is over 19 years, 7 months old
Review of 'Birth', director Jonathan Glazer
Issue 290

Grey skies. Naked trees. Thick snowflakes falling on an early morning Central Park. A jogger in black runs speedily along icy paths. Winter envelops him – his fast breath steaming – as he stops to wind down.

Resting, panting, the jogger suddenly stumbles, kneels, his legs losing strength. The wet asphalt takes his fall. He lies still – and dies.

Simultaneously, a boy is born in a New York hospital – reaching for life through a hot-water basin. Ten years later we follow the boy (Cameron Bright) gate-crashing a party in a posh Manhattan flat where Anna (Nicole Kidman) – the jogger’s widow – celebrates her mother’s birthday and her own engagement.

The boy wants to speak to Anna in private. In the empty kitchen he tells her that he’s Sean, Anna’s dead husband. He declares his love for Anna and warns her off remarrying whereupon he’s thrown out. But the boy is a persistent stalker and slowly Anna is convinced.

Birth starts out as a promising drama because the reincarnation topic looms unexplored. The film seems interesting and unusual. The dark surroundings of a cold New York, sparse smiles on the faces of Anna’s family – all of them dressed in slick, grayscale clothing – gives an impression of tragedy and sadness with a peculiar twist. But director Jonathan Glazer (debut film Sexy Beast) disappoints.

Watching the 35 year old Anna fall in love with a ten year old boy isn’t pleasant. Seeing her share a bath with him and enjoy it is absurd. Laughter rather than amazement greets the sexual tension developing between them. It’s funny, or just strange to hear Sean say, ‘I want you,’ while he stares intently at Anna whose legs are as long as himself.

Kidman genuinely conveys the slow breakdown of the calm Anna who has struggled for a decade to overcome her beloved husband’s death, but her acting skills lose potency because of the unlikely narrative.

Although the line-up is sound, with the young Bright doing a good job as the quiet but determined Sean, Peter Stormare (Fargo) playing Sean senior’s best friend, and Cara Seymoure (Adaptation) who delivers the role of Sean’s mother well – introverted and frightened by her son’s strange behaviour – the film doesn’t fulfil the promise of originality.

Birth lingers, waits to really be born, to erupt, explode. The only instant of action – when Anna’s future husband trashes the flat in front of a perplexed crowd of friends, throwing chairs and attacking the piano because he can’t control his envy of Sean’s success – is again funny but unconvincing.

The new-age storyline is set against a gloomy realism where abundant wealth estranges us from that reality. One feels cheated on having sat through the 100 uncomfortable minutes only to be let down when the final scenes confuse rather than deliver a climax. There is a twist to the film, but not the right one. Birth remains unborn, leaving us with an annoying puzzlement as there is no resolution or closure.

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