Birth (2004, Jonathan Glazer)

“I thought you were my dead husband, but you’re just a little boy in my bathtub.”

The director is a different person from Jon Glaser, the stand-up comic I’ve seen a few times performing with Jon Benjamin. IMDB says Glazer directed Sexy Beast, which I rather liked even if I don’t understand its cult reputation, and Glaser cowrote Human Giant and performed in Baby Mama, The Toe Tactic and Pootie Tang. I’m gonna say Glaser is my favorite Jon(athan) Gla(s/z)er at the moment, but Glazer could definitely catch up.

Impossible to watch without thinking of Ruiz’s Comedy of Innocence, also dealing with a kid renouncing his parents and deciding he is someone else, inexplicably and with full conviction, leaving the adults wondering how to react. Very different styles and stories, though. This time the kid (Sean) thinks he is Nicole Kidman’s husband reincarnated, leading to serious problems since they both wish for this to be true but she can’t have a love affair with a ten-year-old.

Also unlike the Ruiz, this kid has an explanation. Anne Heche (electrifying in this – high-strung, cruel and beautiful) and Peter Stormare (kind of a lump) are old friends (I think Stormare might be the dead husband’s brother, and Heche his wife, but don’t hold me to that) coming to a party at which Heche is gonna give Kidman a box of love letters Kidman had sent her late husband, but Heche panics, runs outside and buries the box, which is found by the kid. The rest doesn’t exactly follow logically – movie still has an air of mystery, of spiritual possession – but it’s a partial explanation.

Hot-tempered rich guy Joseph (Danny “son of John” Huston) is to marry Kidman soon, so he doesn’t take well to the kid’s claims. He and gentle, logical Bob (must be someone’s brother, played by Arliss Howard: Cowboy in Full Metal Jacket) and Kidman’s pregnant sister Laura (Alison Elliott of Wings of the Dove) help her work with the kid (whose parents, completely at a loss, allow him to stay over unsupervised), trying to find holes in his story or understand his motives. I liked the movie very much, but the main problem I had was with its attempt to have it’s realism with its mysticism, sending first Nicole then Bob into a room to disprove the kid for two hours then show them bowled over by a couple correct anwers and elide whatever happens for the next hour and fifty-eight minutes, or making his parents total pushovers who stay away from Kidman’s house – always conveniently cutting to prolong the confusion, which contradicts the reality of all these suspicious adults who are supposed to be searching for the truth. If the movie isn’t going to take the approach of an airtight psychological mystery with a twist ending a la Shutter Island, I’d have preferred it head more towards the inexplicable Comedy of Innocence than straddle the line between them. But no matter, it’s an utterly enjoyable movie with awesome acting and unique enough filmmaking (shimmering, closeup-happy cinematography by Harris Savides: Zodiac, Elephant) to get me all excited.

The whole happy family – that’s Lauren Bacall in front of the cake:

I admit I was looking for the twist ending. Even though we know Heche buried something while the kid watched, I’m wondering which adult would have convinced the kid to concoct this lie. Not his parents, who seem very upset. Nicole’s mom Lauren Bacall doesn’t seem diabolical. Jimmy the doorman (played by cowriter Milo Addica) is friendly with the kid but would seem to lack enough information to plot this out convincingly. I stopped guessing when the kid strips and slides into the bath with Kidman – no adult could brainwash a 10-year-old into being so unlike a 10-year-old. Finally, in the weirdest scene of any movie I’ve seen this year, Sean is tested by a creepy Anne Heche, who it turns out had a long, intense affair with the dead man, unbeknownst to Sean since it wasn’t mentioned in the letters. She then confronts him, hissing, shattering his illusions of true love reborn. Mercifully, Kidman never learns of the affair and goes on to marry Joseph. In an otherwise unreal movie, Kidman spectacularly creates a very real sense of loss, and Glazer and his cowriters (Addica who wrote Monster’s Ball and Jean-Claude Carrière, a lead collaborator of Luis Buñuel, which makes perfect sense) must have realized it’d be too cruel to push her any further at the end.

Anne Heche:

Peter Stormare:

Birth was shat upon critically and commercially, which is how it landed at number eight on The Guardian’s list of the ten most underrated films of the decade (between Inland Empire and Songs from the Second Floor). Coincidentally at number eight of their outright best-of-decade list is Dogville, another Kidman/Bacall movie by a filmmaker who gleefully pushes everything over the edge, who would have had Heche gleefully destroy Kidman, the bastard.

Bob comforts Sean after Joseph goes on a rampage:

J. Anderson:

A brilliant score by Alexandre Desplat underlines Birth and completes it, causing it to slide slightly off-kilter with a tinkly music-box jingle and an ominous, nervous thumping heartbeat backdrop. This musical duality meshes perfectly with the fabric of Birth, in which Anna must choose between an impossible true love and a possible false one. It’s a brilliant film, but not a happy one. The filmmakers seem to have begun at the point in which love lives “happily ever after,” discovering only bitter disappointment and misled hope instead.

Buy (cheap!) on Amazon:
Birth DVD

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