Saturday, November 18, 2006

Eyes Wide Shut

Comments on Minghella's Breaking and Entering

The reason Hollywood will always ultimately triumph over European film is simple: it understands our need to aspire, to dream and to see human life reflected on a larger, more fantastical scale than humdrum reality. Europe on the other hand puts its trust in what it sees as real life. That can be great of course, even if, more often than not, what European movies are actually portraying is a contemporary brand of nihilism which passes for depth.

But European and British films are certainly not averse to the odd fantasy. It’s just that we tend to dress them up in the guise of gritty, searing dramas with something to say about the state-of-the-nation. One such is Breaking and Entering, director Anthony Minghella’s just-released tale about an affluent North London architect (Jude Law) whose security and Sunday supplement life with his cool Swedish wife (Robin Wright Penn) are threatened when he begins an affair with a Bosnian refugee (Juliet Binoche), who’s eking out a living as a seamstress with her delinquent son in sleazy Kings Cross.

The multicultural setting is reminiscent of last year’s Oscar-winner Crash. It all looks very good, in the way that Crash looked good. It’s beautifully shot (but then so are most films these days), and the characters are aesthetically pleasing, even if Law’s vanity, which seems to be increasingly hindering his performances lately, proves to be a real encumbrance here. It’s sort of pleasurable to watch these people glide from scene to scene. But behind the posturing and interior-designed settings, there is actually nothing there at all.

Crash was sold on its supposed fearlessness in telling it like it is on the race issue. It did nothing of the sort of course, basically coming down on the dippy side of Love is all You Need and I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing. Breaking and Entering seems likewise to be claiming to have something to say, but gets around the fact that it hasn’t a clue quite what by indulging in wish-fulfilment and obfuscation. Law’s character gets angry when his firm is repeatedly broken into, but not that angry. He and his wife never exchange so much as a word about the political or social landscape changing around them. Binoche is a beautiful and grateful refugee simply striving to make an honest buck. The cleaner at the firm, also an immigrant, who’s originally suspected of the break-in, quotes Kafka. The grizzled Cockney cop (Ray Winstone) quotes Einstein. Everybody seems to be acting with the best interests of others at heart. And there isn’t a single believable emotion or reaction in the whole two hours.

There’s certainly a market for pictures about people self-absorbed by their lack of fulfilment. But Minghella has set his film firmly in a multicultural milieu which, given the current climate, could only be wilfully ignored, so he must be trying to convey something with it. But he is either too polite or too removed from reality to ask any real questions. What we have instead is a kind of liberal massaging of the situation, with introspection and nuance taking the place of anything which might generate any genuine heat.

Worst of all however, is the avoidance of the real issues which result from sudden mass immigration. Law and his family are rich and privileged, the burglar poor and deprived. It’s a case of have and have-nots, you see. Except in the real world, it isn’t. The affluent can continue to insulate themselves; the real struggles, dislocation and social breakdown happen down there, on the ground. It would be good if somebody made a film about that. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.



Film fan said...

Why don't you try watching the movie instead of making it fit or not fit into your conception of what film should be. What a tiresome and pretentious review.

Toomuchtimeonmyhand said...

The movie must be pretty good for the reviewer, whoever you are, to spew such drivel. I think I'll go see it.

P.S. It's not cool to spout stuff you learn in film school and pretend it's a review.

P.P.S. You need to learn to write -- "I wouldn't hold YOUR breath"? Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm what a bad review. Have you actually seen the film? Do you live in London? The film clearly shows the rich/poor divide in the city we live.
If you enjoy the drivel Hollwood keeps turfing out, then off you go to the multiplex

The New Culture Forum said...

We're strong supporters of Freedom of Speech and we welcome comments.
Anyone wishing to submit their own reviews - tiresome and pretentious or not, spouting stuff learnt in film schools or not, written in english or in any other language (I personnally have a soft touch for French), please do so whether you live in London or anywhere else.
But please express views, opinions, show us that you think!

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