Friday, August 3, 2012

Will It Go Round in Circles: Fernando Meirelles' 360

Desperate to earn money, a downhearted young woman is about to debut with a Vienna escort service. Her family quarrels in their dingy Bratislava apartment. An Algerian dentist stalks his Russian hygienist in Paris. Two bodies writhe on a bed during an adulterous affair in London. A recovering alcoholic attends an AA meeting in Phoenix. Several miserable passengers endure a long wait when their flights are delayed by snow at a Denver airport. So much anguish, so many destinations, so little time. Actually, at 113 minutes, 360 seems twice as long while tracking the sexual encounters – or lack thereof – among various troubled characters across the globe.

The well-credentialed team of filmmakers includes director Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardener, 2005) and screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, 2006) but their collaboration winds up as less than the sum of its many moving parts. The script is adapted from an 1897 play, La Ronde, that Max Ophuls covered onscreen in 1950 with star Simone Signoret; Roger Vadim did the same 14 years later with Jane Fonda but employed a new title, Circle of Love. What goes around, as everyone knows by now, comes around.

This type of plot device, similar to that of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel in 2006, emphasizes how connected we all are no matter the abundance of alienation plaguing humanity. 360 adds a generous dollop of carnal desire to the messed-up mix. In Austria, the potential high-end Slovakian prostitute Blanca (Lucia Siposova) doesn’t ever pleasure her first customer, Michael (Jude Law in tortoiseshell glasses), because he’s threatened with blackmail by a business colleague. His wife Rose (Rachel Weisz), meanwhile, is back in England sleeping with a Brazilian stud (Juliano Cazarre), whose girlfriend Laura (Maria Flor) has grown tired of his infidelities and departs for her Rio hometown – inexplicably, by way of Colorado.

Jude Law and Rachel Weisz in 360
En route, she’s seated on the plane next to an ex-drunk named John (Anthony Hopkins), in despair about a daughter who has gone missing. He inappropriately tries to latch onto the decades younger Laura, but she’s more interested in Tyler (Ben Foster), blissfully unaware that the guy happens to be a confused sex offender just released from prison on parole. He can barely resist touching female strangers of all ages in passing and, at one point, places a long-distance call to his counselor for support.

Back in Europe, the dentist (Jamel Debouzze) is a widower struggling to reconcile his Muslim faith with the lust he feels for hygienist Valentina (Dinara Drukurova). The advice he gets from a mosque official, sounding right out of West Side Story, is essentially “stick to your own kind.” Valentina is unhappily married to Sergei (Vladimir Vdovichenkov). He’s the driver for a brutish Russian mob boss, which causes him to stumble into the lives of Blanca and her sister Anna (Gabriela Marchinkova). This roundelay is no romp. The tone remains grim and full of nasty forebodings, few of which come to fruition. A bigger problem: Dental office drama aside, a viewer’s teeth might start to ache when trying to discern who these people really are and why we should care about them. Other than Hopkins, who spills his guts in a largely unsympathetic performance, the cast members seem vague about their roles. The always intense Foster is an exception, while tapping into a bit of his crazy-street-person routine from 2011‘s Rampart with Woody Harrelson.

Fernando Meirelles - Director, 360
Perfectly fine actors like Law and Weisz are wasted by virtue of little screen time and a lack of specificity. Everyone’s suffering is mostly silent. Morgan, a wizard of words, has offered few that enlighten. Dialogue, such as how people ought to make the risky choices when faced with “forks in the road,” isn’t even in synch with what the puppet masters actually have them do in this production. Fleeing from risk is the norm. If Meirelles had been hoping to craft a multicultural cri de coeur, bad news. The resulting film is anything but sanguine. He fails to breathe life into these tormented folks, speaking a melange of languages – French, Slovakian, Russian, Portuguese, English – as they traverse continents in the elusive search for love and redemption. Despite the onslaught of communications in the Twitterverse, we aren’t necessarily very good at coalescing. There must be a reason cinematic auteurs keep going round and round, like a reel of celluloid or a DVD, in their attempts to explore the conundrum of missed opportunities. The ancient Greeks, borrowing ideas from earlier Babylonian astronomers, calculated that a circle encompasses 360 degrees. In the intervening millennia, even students of advanced trigonometry have yet figure out what that eureka moment may mean for the evolution of our psyches.

– Susan Green is a film critic and arts journalist based in Burlington, Vermont. She is the co-author with Kevin Courrier of Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion and with Randee Dawn of Law & Order Special Victims Unit: The Unofficial Companion.

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