BIRTH. 2004

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Birth (2004) is a disturbing, dark melodrama that flirts with the supernatural. Ten year old Joven (Cameron Bright) gets a crush on a beautiful young widow, Anna (Nicole Kidman). With observational powers too far beyond his years to be totally fraudulent, the boy claims to be the reincarnated husband for whom Nicole's character has never stopped grieving.

BirthIs he playing a twisted game inspired by his crush? Is he a schizophrenic creating an elaborate alternate reality that he really believes in? Wouldn't adults have to collude at least subconsciously in order for a child's emotional & intellectual landscape to appear this mature? Or is he really, as Anna slowly begins to accept, her actual husband reborn, as he insists?

What ensues comes dangerously close to child molestation as the boy becomes increasingly convincing as a reincarnated soul, & the widow begins to respond to him as she would to her late husband.

Many have in fact alleged that this film does cross the line, & is a monstrously inappropriate movie all round. But I think the degree of shock value here is what it plants in the viewer' mind, the implications far exceeding anything that actually occurs. So it's as tasteful a film as it can be while stirring a bizarre combination of romance on screen & horror in the audience.

I'm by no means a Nicole Kidman fan but when she does good work, she does good work. I can't imagine another actress walking this margin of child sexploitation & intellectual art film without spoiling it with an imbalance one way or the other. If it were all self-indulgent sophistication, it would've stunk; if it were actual child exploitation, it could well have been actionable in court. As it stands, what could've left a viewer feeling slimy is by this performance a tale of grief & desperation & heartbreak.

Young Cameron's performance requires a pokerfaced approach that perhaps did not require as much genius as Kidman's performance, a blank slate on which adult expectations can be scribed. Even so, it is still a damnably amazing piece of acting for a child to have accomplished. The writing of the boy's character had to be hardest, & is stunning because he has to be legitimately a child "pretending" to have an adult soul, but without erasing altogether the possibility of the adult within.

Support cast include Lauren Bacall as the widow's mother, Danny Huston as her intended fiance, & Anne Heche as her closest friend. These are "support" roles in the purest sense. None of them quite matter much on their own, but lend deeper credibility & drama to the two key roles.

Birth is fortunately much more a thriller than it is a warped romance, but the suspense derives from unusual angles, relying on nothing basic to the thriller genre. And a film this novel is a rarity for an industry that generally delivers product that narrowly categorizes into familiar genres.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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