Birth Control, filmforce.ign.com, October 29th 2004
We talk with Nicole Kidman and director Jonathan Glazer.
There are more than a few shocking things about Birth, the new reincarnation thriller that finds Nicole Kidman teaming up with Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer. You may have heard that Kidman shares a passionate kiss in the film with her ten-year-old leading man; you may have also heard that they take a bath together. Just as shocking to many of the leggy Aussie's loyal fans, however, is the film's poster depiction of a brunette Kidman with close-cropped hair a la Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. During a sit down with IGN Film Force, Kidman and Glazer discussed the power of the unpredictable, that Flowbee-short 'do, and the importance of making certain that a truly unique film doesn't get lost amongst the controversy.
"I think when people first hear about the subject matter they might raise some eyebrows," admits Kidman, twirling a finger in the gold-spun locks that have grown back since Birth's filming concluded. "But it's a very gentle film, it's not about shocking and trying to exploit these things to be shocking. It's language is very deep, and what you're seeing is really a great director in the making. From Sexy Beast to this shows so much diversity, and that he has the choice and ability to make these two extremely different movies is just 'wow'."
Audiences conditioned to say 'wow' when they see Kidman walk across a screen are sure to be intrigued by a film in which she turns those signature blue eyes in the direction of little Cameron Bright or, as his male classmates now reportedly call him, The Luckiest Kid in the History of the World. Bright plays Sean, a steely boy who insists that he has the soul of the deceased husband of Kidman's Anna inside him. With her on the verge of remarrying and the boy refusing to take no for an answer, let's just say that things get a bit…well…awkward. Film festival screenings and muddled reports have already had various children's watchdog groups calling for the editing of scenes that imply a physical attraction between the two leads; Glazer, however, says that the scenes are perfectly appropriate when viewed in context.
"I don't know whether it's going to be the same kind of controversy after people see the film," says the director who, at the risk of getting too obscure, is the spitting image of Bob Mapplethorpe from Bottle Rocket. "If it's there it's there. It's part and parcel with the story because it's a story about a woman driven mad by love and she's confronted by her husband in the shape of a ten-year-old."
Kidman goes out of her way to point out that she didn't take the role to shock or titillate; she saw Anna as a tender woman who allowed her sincere emotions to guide her. This is why it would be natural for her to want to be with the boy once convinced that he is her soul mate reborn; it also explains the mourning appearance she takes on by cutting her hair short.
"The character was a widow, and it made sense to present her as one," Glazer remembers. "Somebody who had sort of let all glamour go and sexuality go. I wanted a bit of sobriety about her. I didn't want people to see the images of [Kidman] they see on every magazine. I wanted the character to be the character, despite the celebrity."
The Oscar-winning actress says she was a bit apprehensive about severing her golden locks at first, but was ultimately willing to give anything for her art. "Yeah, Jonathan basically asked how I'd feel about having short hair," she laughs, rolling her eyes. "We both agreed that it was important because this woman is a widow and she presents herself very unadorned. It just seemed right. In a strange way, it comes across as very, very appropriate."
Kidman says that she believes in selecting a strong director and then giving whatever is necessary for the role. With a track record that includes names like Lars Von Trier, Jane Campion and Gus Van Sant, the actress who was once just another pretty face has earned the respect of those in the business by taking on some extremely challenging material. Birth follows in those footsteps, and when Kidman thinks of the film she's instantly reminded of the most demanding director she ever had the pleasure of serving under.
"Kubrick is Jonathan's hero. Jonathan and Stanley have very similar ways of finding things and directing them," she says. "Both walk around with a viewfinder, and if they couldn't find the shot, if they couldn't find the scene, they'd procrastinate in their own way. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, it would be like 'Now I've got it', and you'd just start shooting and shooting and shooting. They also have the same sense where you'd question whether a scene was going on too long and both Stanley and Jonathan would tell you not to worry about timing or pacing. Forget that, because that's a very formulaic way of making a movie, thinking that we have to have this amount of time so it will all come together and be done. They both need to find a better way, and then the film finds its own way."
These long shots, which mark the beginning and end of the film as well as a tremendous opera sequence that has the camera lingering on Anna's face for an eternity, have more people than just the actress pointing out the similarities between Glazer and Kidman's Eyes Wide Shut director. For his part, however, the Birth director plays down the similarities.
"There were shots like that in the 1930's," Glazer insists. "It's not unique to any one film. You try to study someone in the frame, and the point of the narrative is to study them, watch them, and if you can tell it in one shot you do. That was about studying a woman and watching her memories come back to her and play across her face. That was about [Kidman's] expressions - I had nothing to add to that - it was about execution."
Pressed a bit further, however, he does admit that Kubrick was present on the Birth set in spirit. "Well, one of his films, The Shining, was certainly part of the three or four films I had in my mind when I was looking at reference points, interesting ideas and philosophies. He was an extraordinary filmmaker. I love the study of behavior, and he captured that better than anyone."
Kubrick also manipulated controversy with the best of them. Who can forget those infamous Harvey Keitel rumors that swirled around Eyes, the 27-year UK banning of A Clockwork Orange, or the similarly explosive youth-oriented sexual themes he explored in Lolita? The long takes, Nicole Kidman as a leading lady, and an anticipation fueled by controversy and solid advance buzz - maybe there is something to this reincarnation thing after all.
"I want to walk through life with grace and dignity and generosity and never take it all for granted."
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