Around the bend

Yet an­other ver­sion of fol­low­ing a re­volv­ing chain of sex­ual in­dis­cre­tions, is an in­ept, jet-lagged drama, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

WOULD IT BE in­dulging in oxy­moron to de­scribe a film as “grandiosely su­per­fi­cial”? All right then. Let’s plump for “su­per­fi­cially grandiose” in­stead.

It’s taken a while for Fer­nando Meirelles’s lum­ber­ing vari­a­tion on Arthur Sch­nit­zler’s La Ronde to make its way into do­mes­tic cine­mas. That’s hardly sur­pris­ing. 360 has, af­ter all, spent the last year be­ing kicked slowly around the globe by the world’s crit­ics and fes­ti­val at­ten­dees. You don’t achieve that feat in an af­ter­noon.

This is one of those mere­tri­cious, in­ter-weaved re­la­tion­ship films – Ba­bel by Ale­jan­dro González Iñár­ritu, Meirelles’s com­pa­triot, is an­other – that some­how mis­takes nar­ra­tive mud­dle for depth and ge­o­graph­i­cal promis­cu­ity for scope.

Let’s get the grandios­ity out of the

irish­times.com/cul­ture

way first. If you set a film in Vi­enna, Bratislava, Lon­don, Paris, Den­ver and some­where else I didn’t bother to write down, then you clearly be­lieve you have big sto­ries to tell. To be fair to Meirelles, he re­frains from scat­ter­ing tourist land­marks about the place to iden­tify the rel­e­vant cities. This is just as well. Con­sid­er­ing the class of act­ing on dis­play, there is ev­ery pos­si­bil­ity that some star might have eaten the Lon­don Eye whole or chewed the Eif­fel Tower into rib­bons.

As in Sch­nit­zler’s 112-year-old play, a chain of sex­ual in­dis­cre­tions links the var­i­ous sub­plots. They are also bound by shared ori­gins in My Big Book of Pa­tro­n­is­ing Movie Clichés. Here is the whey-faced pros­ti­tute from Eastern Europe. Look, it’s the Rus­sian gang­ster with a vul­gar taste in cars and ac­ces­sories. Bas­ing sto­ries around re­cently re­leased sex of­fend­ers once seemed dan­ger­ous; it now reeks of a quick route to cheap sen­sa­tion. Ben Fos­ter ap­pears to prove that point.

The con­nec­tions kick off with that un­for­tu­nate Slo­vakian sex worker be­ing dis­patched to ser­vice a john in Vi­enna. He turns out to be a sleazy British busi­ness­man – so sleazy that Jude Law got the part. But be­fore she has a chance to make the con­nec­tion, busi­ness as­so­ci­ates from Ger­many side­track him into con­ver­sa­tions con­cern­ing Es­to­nian eco­nom­ics.

Rachel Weisz, the wan­der­ing car mogul’s wife, is hav­ing an af­fair with a younger Brazil­ian pho­tog­ra­pher whose own girl­friend leaves for home when she learns the truth. While trapped by snow in Den­ver (Sorry? On the way from Lon­don to Rio?), that char­ac­ter makes friends with An­thony Hop­kins’s re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic (un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, Sir Tony gives the most re­strained per­for­mance), but de­cides to slope off for dan­ger­ous rumpy pumpy with Fos­ter’s re­cov­er­ing sex pest (she doesn’t know he’s a some­time per­vert, but still). And so forth.

If this all strikes you as too hur­ried to di­gest, then you’d best not go any­where near this poorly bal­anced tasters’ menu of a film. Peter Mor­gan, writer of The Queen, Frost/Nixon and other stuff that didn’t make you sick, nei­ther es­tab­lishes a worth­while su­per­struc­ture nor makes sense of any in­di­vid­ual in­ci­dent. The mo­ment a char­ac­ter be­gins to de­velop a hint of nu­ance the film hops on a plane and takes us to an­other des­ti­na­tion.

More Love, Ac­tu­ally than Short Cuts, 360 looks like the work of men who, though con­stantly busy, never get round to do­ing any of the prop­erly hard work. The script seems to have been writ­ten on cue cards – “Mus­lim Den­tist loves Rus­sian nurse” – rather than be­ing ham­mered into any grown-up for­mat. The char­ac­ters barely qual­ify as ci­phers.

The film is, as you might ex­pect from this sta­ble, car­ried off with some tech­ni­cal élan. Adri­ano Gold­man, who shot Meirelles’s City of God, brings a clean beauty to the win­tery lo­ca­tions. The mu­sic is slick. The ac­tors all look lovely.

360 is, how­ever, an ut­terly su­per­fi­cial movie in­ef­fec­tively pos­ing as a work of sig­nif­i­cance. Yes, “grandiosely su­per­fi­cial” will do quite nicely. THE LIFE OF the artist Ai Wei­wei has been char­ac­terised by con­stant rev­o­lu­tion. The son of Com­mu­nist poet Ai Quig, the younger Ai wit­nessed his fa­ther fall from Party favour dur­ing the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion, when the fam­ily was sent for reed­u­ca­tion in the re­mote Xin­jiang re­gion on the Pak­istan bor­der.

In com­mon with di­rec­tors Chen Kaige and Zhang Yi­mou, Ai grad­u­ated with Bei­jing Academy’s Fifth Gen­er­a­tion of film-mak­ers. In 1981 he re­lo­cated to New York, where he found con­tem­po­raries among the No Wave sub­cul­tures.

Ai’s work is duly de­fined by protest. He flips Tianan­men Square the bird in a se­ries of iconic pho­to­graphs; he spray-paints and smashes an­cient Chi­nese ar­ti­facts; he tweets ev­ery day about the state of the na­tion. In China and in the art world, Wi is a rock star, re­plete with flunkies, ap­pren­tices, a fan-base and a young son by a mis­tress. (This film keeps us wait­ing to dis­cover what his wife, fel­low artist Lu Qing, might make of that par­tic­u­lar do­mes­tic com­pli­ca­tion). His stu­dio is the PRC’s an­swer to Warhol’s fac­tory, a place where the mas­ter’s ideas are re­alised by crafts­men and sculp­tresses, who liken them­selves to as­sas­sins.

But Ai’s sta­tus, as doc­u­men­tar­ian Ali­son Klayman soon dis­cov­ers, may not be enough to pro­tect him from the au­thor­i­ties he seeks to crit­i­cise.

Klayman’s fas­ci­nat­ing, cru­sad­ing pic­ture is a happy ac­ci­dent. The Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist was shoot­ing Ai’s cam­paign to col­lect all the names of chil­dren killed in shod­dily built schools dur­ing the 2008 Sichuan earth­quake just as the project sparked the in­ter­est of gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

Friends and fam­ily re­peat­edly ac­knowl­edge that Ai is a hooli­gan and in­sti­ga­tor; Ai re­peat­edly owns that if he does noth­ing, noth­ing will change. In the run-up to ma­jor ex­hibits in Mu­nich and Lon­don, there’s a pal­pa­ble sense that things are com­ing to a head.

This es­sen­tial, finely honed bi­o­graph­i­cal por­trait is jol­lied along by all the ironies and com­plex­i­ties of mod­ern China. Time and again we see dis­si­dents ar­rested and sen­tenced for Or­wellian-sound­ing crimes, but their very ex­is­tence trum­pets change. As Ai’s plight, on­screen at least, comes to a dra­matic, un­ex­pected close, there’s an equally un­ex­pected sense of op­ti­mism.

Bed & bored: Jude Law and Rachel Weisz pon­der their par­tic­i­pa­tion in 360

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