Ten years after her husband's death, as she announces her impending second nuptials, wealthy New Yorker Anna (Kidman) is visited by a boy (Bright) who claims to be her former spouse.
Squeezed somewhere into Nicole Kidman's impossibly busy schedule, this lofty meditation on grief, love, resurrection and the world's most famous actress taking a quick dunk with a small boy was never exactly going to flow in the mainstream. Stranger still, Jonathan Glazer's claustrophobically slow waltz through a shivering New York sees the director impressively shedding the sunny glaze and macho swagger of 2000's Sexy Beast for something more hypnotically morose, more European in flavour and Kubrickian in style.
ItÆs simplest to read Birth as a ghost story, albeit one where the supernatural elements are brushed under the divan for a metaphysical romance where a woman, never fully recovered from losing her husband, may have conjured his spirit in boy's form. The suggestion is that this new "husband" is more an embodiment of her passionate ideals than the real man who was hardly the prince that death has made him.
Meanwhile, her family and understandably narked fiancé Danny Huston (who cascades from bemused, to stunned, to a delightful outburst of indignant pique where he attempts to spank his love rival) look on in abject confusion. Thank heavens, then, that her mother is none other than Lauren Bacall, whose imperturbable features signal she's seen plenty weirder than a grown daughter hooking up with a wee scamp who, by rights, should be keener on Tekken 4.
It is she who reminds you that Glazer is treading a perilously thin line between good and bad taste, and you can't help but wonder whether Birth might have made a great little black comedy. Yet, as close as it comes to collapsing into its own absurdity, it clings on. In fact, this very high-wire act only adds to the discomfort; you're never quite sure where we'll end up.
Glazer's success is to lend such sombre, abstract material a granite conviction, similar in tone if not thrill to M. Night Shyamalan's work, ably assisted by Kidman's gift for icy fragility. Her eyes red-rimmed, her hair shorn to a tight, asexual crop, the entire film slips dreadfully toward the moment when she'll finally shatter.
Imagine if Stanley Kubrick had made Ghost and you're some way to this classily restrained oddity, but its morbid preoccupations and ambiguity might prove too cuckoo for most.
Reviewed by Ian Nathan