Cult Cinema: Birth

Before Under the Skin, there was Birth.

Related article:
Under the Skin Reviewed
With today’s impending home video release of this year’s most divisive film, Under the Skin, I thought it was important to shed light on the director’s previous and equally debated masterpiece of pure cinema, Birth. Released 9 years prior to Under the Skin, Birth is a deeply challenging provocation and meditation on the nature of love exceeding logic and scientific reality.

Almost immediately upon release, the film sparked controversy and was widely misunderstood as some kind of love letter to pedophilia. Sadly, the film was overlooked and a mainstream home video release also failed to latch onto an audience.  With time and tide, however, a cult following began and with it, further anticipation for whatever its writer-director Jonathan Glazer was going to do next, if anything.  Much like Under the Skin, stylistic comparisons were made to Kubrick for its tracking shots, its cold sterility, its fearlessness in seeing its ideas through to their logical end, and for opening far more doors than it manages to close in its short running time.  For Glazer, revealing the answer is only half as interesting as creating a puzzle for an audience to solve.
"Mommy, let me smell your breath!
Have you been drinking?!!!"
Nicole Kidman, simply put, is magnificent here.  In the film’s most famous scene (used for the film’s poster), she attends a grand opera with her fiancée around the time she begins to believe in the boy’s story.  The camera slowly zooms in on her face as a myriad of emotions silently express themselves as her eyes swell with tears, the thundering opera only accentuating the inner feelings she is experiencing.  It’s a moment both shockingly pure and completely polar for many wondering why the camera lingers on her subtly transforming expression for so long.  Equally strong is Cameron Bright, fresh off the demon-child movie Godsend.  Though Bright would have a brief stint of playing creepy kids with far more intelligence than his adult counterparts, he’s utterly fearless here and much like the character, has a keener understanding of the situation than you would like to think.  And there’s Danny Huston as the fiancée who at first tries to appease the strange boy before turning on him as he angrily watches Anna drift away from him. 

"Do YOU know how much
this suit cost?"""
Though Glazer had already established himself firmly in the film world with his gangster drama Sexy Beast and a plethora of exquisitely directed music videos, it’s Birth which cemented his unique, confident style and announced a director years ahead of his viewers.  With its brooding, dimly lit, high-contrast cinematography by the late Harris Savides and its ethereal score by Alexandre Desplat (still his finest score in my opinion), Birth is a haunting ode to timeless love, grief, and closure, while also pondering notions of immortality and rebirth.  It’s a shame with all the discussion surrounding his latest effort, Under the Skin, few viewers know about or have had the pleasure of seeing his very first masterpiece.  

-Andrew Kotwicki