In the near, frontier-less future, only those with papelles (insurance cover) live in the comfort of cities; others live in shanty towns on the edge of the deserts that surround the cities. William (Tim Robbins), a family man, is an insurance investigator sent to Shanghai to solve a case of fake papelles. Here he meets Maria (Samantha Morton), and although she's the one creating the forgeries, he falls in love with her. He hides her crime and they have a wild, passionate affair that can only last as long as his papelles: 24 hours. Back home, William is obsessed with the memory of Maria. He tries to see her but is refused the necessary papers to travel. Desperate, he uses one of the fake papelles he kept from his investigation. He eventually tracks her down, only to discover she has been accused of violating Code 46 - a reproductive restriction for genetically related sexual partners - and her memory of him wiped.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Defying genres, or at least combining several (sci-fi, noir, romance), Michael Winterbottom's latest film to be released here (9 Songs was made later but released earlier) is yet another surprise: although for the past dozen years he's made a film every year, he hasn't made two films that are similar either in style or substance. Code 46 takes its sci-fi credential seriously, meaning not so much aliens or futuristic novelty but the human condition in a future of our own making. Hence the fortunate live in austere cities under a scheme of papelles, insurance certificates, and if they can't get papelles they're outcasts, forced to eek out an existence outside, probably in a desert hovel.
The imagery and symbolism and socio-political material embedded here is extensive to explore, but Winterbottom and his frequent collaborator, writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, don't push any of it down our throats.
There is an eerie parallel, though, with George A. Romero's Land of the Dead (coincidentally released in Australia on the same day as Code 46), in which the privileged live in secure city enclaves.
But the film is just as much a romance, albeit an unusual one. William, a muted, unengaged Tim Robbins, is infatuated with the subject of his investigations into papelle fraud. And no wonder; Samantha Morton is sensual, vulnerable and erotic in her off-beat way, and the film's emotional engine. She is the one who propels the affair from the start, and she's the one who maintains it most strongly. Her narration, possibly added in post production to provide better context for the plot developments, makes the film subjective, although much of the camerawork gives us William's pov.
Satisfyingly cinematic, Code 46 is shot by two cinematographers, and the images are striking, not least because of location and available light, as well as some graphically driven interiors. Music, too, is a powerful aide (as usual for Winterbottom) in delivering a sensory film that poses all sorts of questions about morality, fate and genetics. It's a brave, adventurous film that, despite a few flaws, delivers something unique and attains an original mix of complex elements.
Review by Louise Keller:
A fascinating noir thriller that is above all a love story, Code 46 is a film that defies genre. Filmmaker Michael Winterbottom's futuristic story about a detective sent into the desert to unmask a fraud is about human emotions. Clones and genetic make-up become part of our fate and memories in this complex tale of forbidden love. Code 46 is the term used for any taboo violation of inbreeding, when the DNA of any two individuals is too similar.
William (Tim Robbins) is a detective based in Seattle, whose talent is intuition. In order to read minds, all he has to do is ask his subject to reveal one thing about themselves. It's a bit like a party trick, and William uses his skill as mechanically as would a tradesman. His life with his wife (Jeanne Balibar) and young son is worlds away from that of Maria (Samantha Morton), who works as a processor of all-important ID insurance documents called papelles. Her job, in a high security unit in the middle of the desert, is mechanical, and she uses her intuition to assess for whom she will forge fake papers. She breaks the law and helps people who can't otherwise get their papelles, so they can pursue their dreams by travelling where they want to go. A plane trip and a long highway is what lies between them, but they are destined to meet when William is sent to find out who is responsible for the fraud.
Samantha Morton is the heart and soul of the film, and her expressive face is often showcased in tight close up. On the surface, Maria and William are like chalk and cheese - he is tall, she is short. He is detached, she is warm. But when they meet, there is an instant connection. It's as if fate has drawn them together. And although Williams knows instantly that Maria is guilty of forging the papelles, he instinctively protects her by lying.
The story is a little like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are scattered all over the place. Slowly we start to piece together the various elements, as William finds Maria in a medical establishment with all memories of him and their encounter erased.
Ultimately, with its themes of control and manipulation, Code 46 is as interesting as you would like it to be. It's a film you can use as a skateboard with which you can speed through your mind to explore issues of destiny, hope and love.
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CODE 46 (MA)
CAST: Tim Robbins, Togo Igawa, Nabil Elouhabi, Samantha Morton, Sarah Backhouse, Jonathan Ibbotson, Natalie Jackson Mendoza
PRODUCER: Andrew Eaton
DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom
SCRIPT: Frank Cottrell Boyce
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alwin H. Kuchler, Marcel Zyskind
EDITOR: Peter Christelis
MUSIC: David Holmes
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Tildesley
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 4, 2005