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  Code 46 Grief Encounter
Year: 2003
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Stars: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, Om Puri, Kerry Shale, Natalie Mendoza, Nabil Elouahabi, Jeanne Balibar, Essie Davis, Benedict Wong, Nina Wadia, Nina Sosanya, Shelley King, Archie Panjabi, Nabil Massad, Togo Igawa, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mick Jones
Genre: Science Fiction, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: In the future, you can either live in a city or not, and there are regulations dictating who gets to stay and who gets to go depending on your history. William Geld (Tim Robbins), for example, has an important job as a fraud investigator, so he gets to live in one city and travel to others as part of his work, such as now when he is visiting Shanghai to investigate a case. As he is driven through the desert he engages with the destitute who stay at the tollbooths and try to persuade the travellers to part with cash for their goods and trinkets, mostly because he has been given an empathy virus which makes him more amenable to his fellow man - or woman.

Another thing the empathy virus does is assist William in his occupation, allowing him to read minds all the better to achieve his goal, but it seems to have side effects too. Which led us to the main bone of contention, and one which was detailed in the opening credits apparently for the hard of thinking who would not "get" what the movie was about simply by watching the plot unfold. It's to do with genetics, and now the population of Planet Earth has reached enormous levels it's imperative that there is not mixing of close DNA matches so that those related closely do not pair off and breed without knowing of their incompatibility.

Needless to say, the science behind this was pretty shaky, at least in the way Frank Cottrell Boyce's script explained it, and also gave rise to the essential issue that you may find yourself having with Code 46 (named after the code violation that triggers the emotional denouement of the film). Samantha Morton was Maria Gonzales, the suspect William meets and falls in love with on his business trip, and if you paid heed to the captions at the beginning you can see where this is going almost immediately. Basically, thanks to their genetic makeup, William and Maria might as well be brother and sister, so what you had was a romance, an impossble one, where you had to be invested in siblings wanting to get it on, not the most savoury of love stories to chew over.

Indeed, there was something queasy to put it mildly about William's pursuit of Maria even as the authorities try to split them up, not least a late on sex scene where she has been modified to reject him against her feelings, so in the style of Paul Schrader's Cat People remake he handcuffs her to the bed and has his way with her as she reluctantly struggles beneath him. You never got this in Brief Encounter, and it does leave you searching the rest of the film for something of worth to justify watching this odd couple indulge their dubious desires. Fortunately there was something, and that was director Michael Winterbottom's way with the camera which fashioned a compelling appearance for the future from bits and pieces of various locations around the world, its geography subtly yet markedly different to 2003's present.

If ever there was a movie worth seeing for the scenery, it was Code 46, and not only the land and cityscapes, as indoors the coldly functional offices and stations were very evocative, filled with citizens being guided - or ordered - around by a selection of intriguing character bits from various actors who seized their big chance to make an impression. Actually, many of those would be more interesting than following the lovers, as Robbins and Morton didn't seem like a terrific couple anyway: no sparks were flying, and their supposed passion had to be taken as read, more screenplay-led than performer guided. Therefore if you could get past the central romance being a dud, and a theoretically uncomfortable dud at that, it was details which made his captivating, with Morton's accent changing depending on the scene, the strictly regulated existence the population exist under which sees them altered mentally or physically now technology has caught up with the specifics of genetics, and Winterbottom's eye for a striking image, more bleakly romantic than the characters themselves. Music by David Holmes.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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