Ten years after the death of her husband Sean, Anna (Nicole Kidman) is confronted by a 10 year old Sean (Cameron Bright), who claims he is her dead husband, and he even takes her to the spot in Centra Park, New York, where Sean collapsed during a winter run. The young boy has chosen the party to celebrate Anna's engagement to Joseph (Danny Huston) to make himself known, crashing the swank party in a ritzy apartment block. Anna's family, including the discomfited Joseph and her mother (Lauren Bacall) are outraged and incredulous. At first amused and then annoyed but finally accepting, Anna herself finds the great love of her life swamping her emotions and wanting to believe. But a secret from Sean's past emerges to muddy the already strange waters.
Review by Louise Keller:
Brave, bizarre or brilliant? Birth takes a bizarre concept and approaches it with the kind of ballast expected from the brave. Nicole Kidman is certainly brilliant in her convincing portrayal, but whether or not this metaphysical love story is great cinema, or simply a contrived gimmick, is for you to decide. I enjoyed some of the ideas and the stillness of the direction, but ultimately the film falls down in an unholy heap, bogged down by its own self-importance.
A man dies; a baby is born. An announcement of a forthcoming wedding is made. A grieving widow is told a ten year old boy is her dead husband. Writer /director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) uses his treatment, not the concept as the revelation. And in doing so, he has our attention. The focus is on Nicole Kidman's confused Anna, who initially finds the notion laughable, before being sucked into the mystique of this unfathomable situation.
Birth is certainly the kind of film that makes you think. Just when you think a situation is totally ridiculous, the characters respond in a predictable adult kind of way, and bring credibility to the table. First we are taken into the refined world of Anna and her family. They live in an elegant New York apartment with a doorman (played by Milo Addica, the co-writer) who is so bored, he passes the time by bouncing a ball against the marble walls. The relationships are totally credible with Lauren Bacall a formidable presence as Anna's mother, and Danny Huston (son of director John Huston) as Anna's loving and doting fiancé Joseph. Theirs is a comfortable world with high ceilings and plenty of space, but a feeling of claustrophobia sets in as the mood changes. Cameron Bright, the Canadian youngster whose face haunted us in the supernatural thriller Godsend, is unnerving as Sean who appears unannounced out of nowhere at a family gathering. 'How's Mr Reincarnation enjoying his cake?' retorts Bacall's Eleanor, po-faced.
Glazer allows the camera to linger at every opportunity. There are several minutes when it rests immobile on Kidman's emotion-filled face as she sits in a theatre audience watching an orchestral concert. Her eyes well with tears; her lips quiver; the music vibrates. Much has been made of the bath scene in which Kidman and Bright sit in the tub naked together. There is nothing sensual about it, just a sense of disquiet and wondering where this can possibly lead. The same applies in the scene when Sean places his nail-bitten hands around Anna's face before they kiss.
There are several reveals in the storyline, which are interesting to say the least, and Anne Heche's Clara is the most chilling of all the characters. From the time we watch her bury a small parcel with her hands under the fallen leaves in the park, to the riveting scene when she takes Sean into the bathroom and closes the door, we are fascinated.
Perhaps Birth's greatest failing is its ending. Just when all the strands of the story seem to have been neatly managed, the plot suddenly dissipates and leaves us with the sound of the sea, and a head-full of unanswered questions.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I must admit I approached this film with misgivings, concerned that the basic (and much publicised) concept was so outrageous that to make it work on any level would take enormous invention and wit. But the filmmakers' cleverness resides elsewhere, and outdoes itself to the extent that the film is a tiresome bore with most of the first half taken up by dreary "I am Sean", "no you're not" antics; these are meant as red herrings, but there's a whole meal-worth of them here. The process leaves characterisation languishing, not to mention credibility.
It is difficult to really discuss this film without giving away some crucial information, but to put it bluntly, it's a short film looking for length and not finding enough depth. Pardon the awful pun, but this is a movie concept that's stillborn.
The much publicised central idea of a 10 year old claiming to be the reincarnated husband of a 30 something woman is supposed to drive our investment in the film. The reason it doesn't is because none of the young boy's presentations ring true, so we are constantly fighting the premise and wondering why the film's characters are so blind to it. For instance, when he first meets Anna, having barged his way into the apartment during the party, he asks her to go into the kitchen to speak privately. While this first part of the scene works well, the 10 year old (always with a solemn face showing no emotion) seeming to play adult and Anna humouring him. In the kitchen she asks abruptly "What do you want?" and he replies "You."
Now if I were a deceased husband reincarnated in a 10 year old body, I would certainly try to prepare my beloved wife for the ensuing revelation, knowing it would be hard to swallow. Especially if I had been a scientist working on splitting the atom, as was Sean. For an intelligent man, he has come back really dumb. A wife would spot this. From here on in, everything the kid does is off key. He is totally void of emotion, shows no wit, intelligence or even average humanity. This blankness is so prevalent that it hurts, but it seems everyone in the film can ignore it and try dis-proving his identity.
This is the sort of film where the audience might jump up and yell expletive-filled advice to the characters on screen.
The drama is punctured, the characters are flat and some scenes verge on the ridiculous. The resolution is insipid, inconclusive and incredible, with a coda that suggests Anna's love demon is in fact a demon of a more diagnosable kind. And Nicole Kidman deserves not one but two Oscars for taking on the role and turning in a great performance - despite the script.
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CAST: Nicole Kidman, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Anne Heche, Cameron Bright, Peter Stormare
PRODUCER: Lizie Gower, Nick Morris, Jean-Luis Piel, Wang Wei
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Glazer
SCRIPT: Milo Addica, Jean-Claude Carriere, Jonathan Glazer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Harris Savides,
EDITOR: Sam Sneade, Claus, Wehlisch
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kevin Thompson
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 28, 2005