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Film Notes: Children of Men

I’ve been planning on posting my thoughts on the bunch of DVDs I’ve watched recently – not full reviews, just some reactions and comments – but I saw Children of Men last night and couldn’t contain the urge to write about how fantastic a film it is.

I’ve mentioned before how great a job Alfonso Cuaron did on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and how he should direct all the remaining films), so I shouldn’t have been so surprised at the quality of the film. Yet it managed to amaze, enthral, entertain and affect me in ways I haven’t experienced from all those films I’ve been catching up on via LoveFilm.

Children of Men is set 20 years in the future. Due to an unexplained reason, there have been no births in nearly 20 years. The film starts with news coverage of the death of the world’s youngest man, an 18-year-old Argentinian, who was stabbed. Clive Owen plays Theo, a man heavy with regret and despair, who walks out of the coffee shop (where the television is playing this news), which blows up. That’s an attention grabber.

He goes to visit his friend Jasper (a delightful performance by Michael Caine), a former news photographer who lives in the country with his wife (who is in a catatonic state after possibly being tortured during her reporting days) and grows and smokes his own marijuana – his new blend is Strawberry Cough. An aside – a genius bit of casting, having Caine as a pot-smoking hippy; in a film about serious issues, he brings warmth and humour, and it is possibly the most delightful use of the ‘pull my finger’ in a film.

Upon his return to London, Theo is kidnapped by a rebel group called The Fishes; it turns out that his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) is one of their higher-ups, and needs Theo’s help to get someone to safety. Theo used to be an activist himself – it was where he and Julian met – but he lost the faith when their son died during the flu epidemic. However, Theo has a cousin who can get the transit papers (the UK is under strict control, and illegal immigrants are rounded up into a camp at Bexhill) and Julianne trusts him to do this vital job – to take the first pregnant women to the coast to meet with The Human Project, who could help save the human race …

Everything about this film is exquisite. The script, based loosely on a novel by PD James but more a starting point for the story from Cuaron, is razor sharp – the necessary information is provided as economically as possible for you understand what is going on and to become emotionally engaged with the characters. There are large sections without dialogue – the story is told fully through the medium of cinema. Cuaron’s direction is beautiful – the camera flows through the rubble and the dirt of this future version of humanity. There is an astounding single-take sequence near the end, a battle in Bexhill, which lasts nearly 10 minutes and is breathtaking, including a contrasting peace and quiet that suddenly develops in the middle of the shooting and shouting. There are many scenes where the camera doesn’t cut but moves fluidly around the action, giving a sense of heightened reality to the situation. It allows the film to exist in its own perfectly realised world, grabbing you and never letting go from start to finish.

(It helps the viewing experience to be a Londoner – the city is used as a backdrop for a lot of the early film, and it looks so familiar yet so alien. Parts of the city have been transformed to reflect the despair that grips the world, even though the UK seems to be the only country that is functioning on a relatively normal level, other major countries suffering unnamed problems, and it hammers home the idea of what happens to a society that doesn’t have children. Although, in some places, the production team didn’t have to work too hard to make the location look even grubbier …)

This is a remarkable piece of film that strengthens my opinion of Cuaron’s abilities, makes me believe that Owen can be a decent actor and reinvigorated my love of cinema and its power. If you have not seen this film, do yourself a favour and see it immediately.

Rating: DAVE

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