A review of “Birth” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for nudity, sexual activity and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

 

 

Jonathan Glazer knows weird.  His stunning Sexy Beast was a provocative but strange being, marked by a powerful performance from Ben Kingsley.  Birth carries on the tradition as a profoundly peculiar but ultimately satisfying turn.

Nicole Kidman is the willowy, elegant Anna, a widow of ten years who plans on marrying good-guy beau Joseph (Danny Huston). Anna lives in the lap of luxury; swathed in cashmere in a swanky Upper East Side apartment with imperious mom Eleanor (Lauren Bacall) for company.

Life throws Anna a major curveball when a ten year-old boy named Sean (Cameron Bright) approaches her and insists that she can’t marry Joseph because he himself is the re-incarnation of her ex-husband Sean.

Preposterous, of course.  Anna’s family and fiancée rally around her and attempt to rid themselves of this pesky problem.  But Sean remains steadfast in his claim. As Anna sparks to the curious young boy and the validity of his declaration she also begins to question her own life choices.

Birth is thoroughly unsettling due to a simple storyline that raises more questions than it answers.  The fact that young Sean actually seems to be dead Sean is weighty with ominous consequence.

Bright’s performance is the crux of the project and he knocks it out of the park.  Glazer asks much of the child, who manages to convey unique maturity and longing for a woman twenty-five years his senior from the depths of his soulful blue eyes.  Kidman returns in kind, obliged to seek the spirit of her lost love from within the form of a child.

A portentous, spine-tingling score fills in for sparse dialogue and random flat spots where the pacing loses its footing. Chilly imagery (vast foyers, abandoned Manhattan boulevards, Central Park under a wintry blanket of snow) supports a sense of doom that toes the line of horror and leaves a lingering perception of disquiet.