Code 46 (15PG)Thursday 16 Sep 2004
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, starring Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, Om Puri, Jeanne Balibar, Essie Davis, Emil Marwa, David Fahm and Benedict Wong.
Versatile and prolific, English director Michael Winterbottom's recent films have included period drama ('The Claim'), biography ('24 Hour Party People') and documentary-type stories about refugees ('In This World'). For 'Code 46' - a story with more parallels to 'In This World' than are immediately evident - he sets a doomed love story between Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton in a dystopian, but unsettlingly recognisable, future.
In 'Code 46', the world is divided into privileged city-dwellers and those who have been banished outside to the desert area called al fuera, beyond the city limits. Movement between the cities is strictly circumscribed and dependent on travel documents called papeles. Robbins plays married insurance investigator William, sent from Seattle to Singapore to sort out an issue of fake papeles. He becomes suspicious of Morton's eccentric Maria but, rather than close the case, their encounter leads to a brief, life-changing affair.
But love in the future is not a simple thing. With IVF, cloning and genetic manipulation widespread, there are Big Brother-type laws, including the one that the film is named after, that govern procreation to prevent accidental incestuous births - and relationships. Personal freedom no longer exists.
Rather than spending the majority of this moderately budgeted film on special effects and set design (à la 'I Robot' or 'Minority Report'), 'Code 46' was shot on location in Shanghai, Dubai and Japiur, allowing Winterbottom to juxtapose the sleek futuristic skyscrapers of the cities with the al fuera deserts. Because of global warming, day has been flipped for night and cinematographer Alwin H Kuchler's mesmeric shots of neon-lit cities add a dreamy, dislocated feel to the film.
It's a stylised and atmospheric movie but 'Code 46' deals so briefly with so much information that many plot strands are left hanging. This problem wouldn't be quite as noticeable if the central love story was fully realised but the connection between Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton never generates enough passion to totally convince. Still, Michael Winterbottom's unsettling vision of the future - global warming, human cloning, the difficulties of cross-border travel - is so beautifully rendered as to remain in the memory long after such plot inconsistencies disappear.