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January 2013


cast: Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Ben Foster, and Maria Flor

director: Fernando Meirelles

110 minutes (15) 2011
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Artificial Eye blu-ray region B

RATING: 3/10
review by Jonathan McCalmont


Once upon a time, studios used to hire groups of directors and instruct them to produce short films that would later be released together as part of the cinematic equivalent of a short fiction anthology. While the anthology or portmanteau film is now largely extinct, its DNA lives on in one of the most effective and critically acclaimed formats to emerge in recent times: the composite film.

As with old portmanteau films, such as RoGoPaG or Dead Of Night, composite films are collections of short stories held together by a single thematic or narrative framework. However, unlike portmanteau films, composite films such as Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, treat their short stories as components of much larger and seemingly non-linear stories.

Much like its ancestor, the composite film's reliance upon short narrative strands makes for a simplified production process as the interlocking narrative means that the ensemble cast need not be in the same place at the same time for very long. Indeed, finding a time when the likes of Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster, and Rachel Weisz are all available for an extended period of time is immeasurably more difficult than asking them to find a couple of weeks in which to shoot what is effectively a short self-contained character piece.

Having filmed each of these pieces in isolation, all the production need do is find a single day in which two of the main actors are available at the same time and shoot them bumping into each other, resulting in a luxuriantly cast drama whose non-linear structure evokes both the alienation of modern life and the fact that we are all part of a much larger human system. Add to this template a unifying theme such as racism (as in Paul Haggis' Crash), illness (as in Stephen Soderbergh's Contagion), or the international drug trade (as in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams), and you have yourself the type of middlebrow drama that critics and juries seemed unable to resist, right up until the release of this particular film.

Fernando Meirelles and Peter Morgan's film 360 begins with an East European woman taking her first steps into the sex trade. Echoing the creepy voyeurism of his previous films City Of God, and Blindness, Meirelles positions the audience somewhere inside the pornographer's head as a disembodied Austrian accent offers booze and empty promises to a woman who is obviously as scared as she is desperate. Both unpleasant and unnecessary, this vignette sets the tone for a film that views human sexuality as a sort of global conspiracy to destroy the middle classes.

Whether it's Jude Law moaning into a mobile phone, Rachel Weisz frowny-facing her way through a meeting, or Maria Flor attempting to seduce a violent sex offender in an airport restaurant, 360 is absolutely clear that nobody in their right mind should ever attempt to have sex. The film's disgust with human sexuality is even more evident from the fact that only characters who pointedly fail to have sex walk away from their plot-lines with anything approaching a smile. Cheerful eunuchs include Anthony Hopkins' grieving father, Ben Foster's semi-reformed rapist, and Gabriela Marcinkova as the impossibly smart and virginal daughter of the first vignette's sex-worker.

360 is obviously the product of a mature cinematic formula. Much like Contagion, and 21 Grams, before it, the film reaps the production-related benefits of the composite film format and makes good use of the themes of alienated interconnectedness that we have come to associate with this type of non-linear narrative structure. Equally effective is the cold and brittle cinematography of Adriano Goldman whose work here is just as elegant as it was on Cary Fukunaga's wonderfully Freudian adaptation of Jayne Eyre. From its individual performances and visuals to its structure and dialogue, 360 is an eminently competent iteration of a formula that is rapidly becoming a little bit too familiar. Aside from its highly derivative nature, Meirelles film also struggles with the fact that its unifying theme is as mad as a box of frogs.

360 is based upon a famous 19th century play by the Austrian dramatist Arthur Schnitzler. Schnitzler's play purports to examine the different attitudes to sex espoused by people from different social classes and moves from one section of society to another by having two characters run into each other and have sex. The play is titled La Ronde, after round dances and the fact that it begins and ends with the same sex-worker encountering a new client and beginning the cycle again. Unfortunately, while 360 may share La Ronde's subject matter and structure, Morgan and Meirelles have replaced the play's sociological engagement with a sort of airily misanthropic sexual moralising that is as demented as it is reactionary.

The film's paralysing fear of human sexuality is evident in the way that it refuses to distinguish between consensual sex, and sexual activity resulting from physical or psychological coercion. This equivalence is evident in the way that the film opens with a womon being pressured into having sex with a pornographic photographer only to then move on to a woman deciding to continue her affair with a fashion photographer. Clearly, there is something very wrong indeed if Morgan and Meirelles cannot see the difference between a terrified sex-worker who is bullied into sleeping with a website operator, and a middle-class woman deciding to continue an existing affair with a handsome visual artist.

This bizarre sense of equivalence is also evident in the (admittedly well-realised) scene in which the recently single Laura (Maria Flor) attempts to seduce a reformed sex offender named Tyler (Ben Foster). Ignorant of the fact that Tyler is a convicted rapist, Laura essentially throws herself at him on the grounds that they are stranded in an airport and will most likely never see each other again. Terrified of what might happen should he surrender to any sexual desire, Tyler rebuffs Laura's overtures and locks himself in the bathroom. Meirelles imbues this scene with a good deal of tension but it is not actually clear what the source of this tension is supposed to be: Tyler is definitely a rapist but the short time he spent in prison suggests that he did not kill his victims. Given that the only danger is that two single people might have consensual sex, why does Meirelles shoot the scene as though something dreadful were about to happen? The answer is that, much like the character of Tyler, the film is incapable of distinguishing between consensual sex and violent rape.

The suggestion that human sexual activity is a conspiracy to destroy middle-class lives is also evident from the characters played by Jude Law and Rachel Weisz. Though married to each other, both characters engage in extra-marital affairs that have grave impact upon their personal lives. However, both characters end their arcs on an upbeat note by publicly rejecting sexual behaviour and surrendering themselves to the sexless joys of consumerism and devoted parenting. Having shown us this model for how to cope with human sexuality, the camera pans back to a familiar apartment complex and shows us an attractive woman ascending the stairs to meet the same Austrian pornographer we encountered in the opening vignette. The message is clear: much like the poor, sex is always with us and humans will continue destroying themselves until they find a way of progressing beyond their basic animal urges.

Don't get me wrong... We live in a hypersexual age in which sexual imagery is being used to sell everything from chocolate cakes to children's pencil cases. Lifestyle journalists tell us that it is not enough to merely have sex; we are now expected to have sex all the time and to a very high standard lest our middle-class friends and colleagues consider us emotionally inadequate. To live in such an age and produce a film suggesting that sex is a bad idea takes considerable courage, but choosing to articulate these views in a style so formulaic and a manner so reactionary means that Meirelles' 360 is not the film it could have been.

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