Sunday, May 01, 2005

Nicole Kidman stalked by jealous reincarnated spirit? Perhaps not?

I can understand why this film disappeared quickly and quietly last year. The storyline at its most basic sounds ridiculous and skirts ground found morally repugnant by most. When I saw the preview my own bizarre tastes weren't titillated a bit. I condemned Birth as a stupid idea and forgot about it.

Until I watched it yesterday, that is. Twice. Birth is amazing, from its perfectly honed score to its production and gorgeous cinematography to Jonathan Glazer's flawless direction. And the performances! Cameron Bright provides the most profound acting by a child since Anna Paquin in The Piano, or perhaps those marvelous kids in Rabbit-Proof Fence--forget that lame Sixth Sense/AI kid. Lauren Bacall, Danny Huston, Anne Heche, Arliss Howard--all subtle, strong performances. The action in Birth occurs primarily through slight changes in expression; we can see the conflict and the pain and the implications of events as they register on the actors' faces more than through actual plot events. Not your kind of flick? Stay away.

Let's talk about Nicole Kidman. She's at a point in her career when she could do whatever she wants. She could do safe blockbusters for big bucks, she could hog all the date flicks, she could do TV. So what's she choose? Small, disturbing, extremely challenging roles few people see (Doggville and Birth are prime examples). The only explanation for this behavior is that she likes her work, she wants to hone her skills, and she needs to stretch her capabilities. There is NO finer actor working today. Kidman is awe-inspiring in this role. There's an extended close-up sans dialogue during which we see her character's world shatter and she begins to entertain as true a dread possibility once thought impossible. The implications of this possibility register a spectrum of slight emotional changes in her eyes and mouth, and this beautifully punishing scene goes on forever. It's magical. I was so excited I made Cha watch Birth after she got home from the Towson Festival and she agreed it was brilliant and troubling.

There's a lot here to digest, including several subtexts in need of complex readings based in identity theory, feminist philosophy, and ethics. Strongly recommended.