Directed by Jonathan Glazer, starring Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Anne Heche and Peter Stromare.
Having been booed by critics at the Venice Film Festival and featuring a controversial bathtub scene involving Kidman and her 11-year-old co-star, 'Birth' seems set to split audiences into many camps. Some will find it deep and meaningful; others interesting but disappointing or maybe even slick but silly. You'll also find yourself switching sides throughout the film.
Anna (Kidman), widowed for 10 years, is about to marry her very patient suitor Joseph (Huston), even though she still hasn't come to terms with the death of her husband Sean. No sooner has the engagement news been announced at Anna's birthday party than another birthday party for her mother (Bacall) is interrupted by an eight-year-old boy, Sean (Bright), who says that he wants to speak with the bride-to-be in private.
Escorting him into the kitchen, the young boy then tells Anna that he's Sean, her dead husband, and that it would be a mistake to marry. She marches him out the door and then laughs about it with her sister. But the boy won't go away: he writes to her, and appears again, able to recount minute details about the late Sean's life. And for Anna humour turns to hurt then to disbelief and ultimately acceptance, leaving her future in crisis and shackling her ever tighter to the past.
Swapping the gangster bravado and verbal menace of his debut 'Sexy Beast' for a yellowy-lit, snow-covered New York, where the characters have trouble telling the truth, the opening and closing scenes of Glazer's film harks back to his time as an award-winning ad and promo director. 'Birth' begins with a great tracking shot that could be an ad for life insurance; closes with a scene that's just missing a product plug for perfume and in between is driven by a twist that you've either guessed or half-guessed from very early on.
So why bother with it? Well, even if you figure out what's going on, it's always watchable, it looks beautiful and the performances are excellent, with no actor going over the top in a story that almost seems like an open invitation to do so. Kidman is frozen and newcomer Bright is eerie, while the rest of the cast's take on well-heeled New Yorkers never slips.
'Birth's themes of life, love and trust after loss are likely to stay in your mind long afterwards. So too could the feeling that you've just watched a more arty version of 'Ghost'.