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Julia
cast: Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, and Kate Del Castillo

director: Erick Zonca

138 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Chelsea DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
What a mongrel project Julia is! A French-made film, set in the USA and Mexico, starring an English actress playing an American, it's also an odd combination of in-depth character study and thriller.

Julia (Tilda Swinton) is an out of control alcoholic, used to spending the rent money on vodka tonics and waking up the morning-after in a stranger's bed. Fired for being drunk at work, she needs another source of income. Which is where beautiful, unstable Elena (Kate del Castillo) comes in. Elena's eight-year-old son Tom (Aidan Gould) now lives with his rich grandfather, and she has been fantasising about kidnapping him back and taking him home to Mexico. When Elena asks Julia for help, Julia is initially reluctant. But she decides to take the job, double-cross the gullible Elena, and kidnap the boy for herself. What had seemed to be a simple plan, however, proves to be anything but. Everything that can go wrong does, with a panicky Julia managing at every step only to make matters much worse for herself and her unfortunate young hostage...

This is a film to admire rather than enjoy. Erick Zonca created the title role for Swinton, but a film this long (cut down from four and a half hours!) really needs a more sympathetic protagonist than the drunken, lying, selfish Julia. Swinton feels that her character succeeds in engaging audience sympathy against their will, but I disagree. Julia's treatment of Tom is so despicable, I found myself willing her to fail - presumably not Zonca's intention. My reaction may be due in part to the plot holes left by severe editing. When Julia tells Tom of his parents' love for him, for example, it should have evoked our empathy, but it misfires because the scene where Elena confided this crucial piece of information is lying on the cutting room floor, making it appear that Julia is merely lying again. And Julia's track record of lying also undercuts the film's unsatisfying ending (it stops rather than finishes) because it turns it into something ambiguous rather than redemptive.

Swinton (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Chronicles Of Narnia) gives a tour de force in the demanding lead role, but I must take issue with her view that drunks are 'hyper-intelligent' - probably another reason why my perception of this film differs from hers. There's a strong supporting cast in the shape of Saul Rubinek (The Contender) as Julia's soft-hearted, loyal friend, Mitch, though believing that Julia has any friends is a lot to swallow. And Kate del Castillo (The Black Pimpernel, Trade) regrettably disappears too early, having given a nicely judged, always-on-the-edge of-hysteria performance that perfectly conveys that something is 'off' about Elena. As for eight-year-old Tom, Aidan Gould does a good job in his first major film role, though he looks much older than he should - probably because he was.

DVD extras: there's a 15-minute interview with Tilda Swinton, in which amongst other things she reveals that the film's alternate title was 'My Arse Is On Fire'; 30 minutes of deleted scenes, introduced by screenplay co-writers Aude Py and Erick Zonca; plus the theatrical trailer.
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