BluRay/DVD Reviews

JULIA

By • Oct 15th, 2009 •

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This film opened small and played small. Its nearly two-and-a-half hours are populated by unsavory characters in the extreme, the herd led by a remarkable Tilda Swinton who plays an amoral, self-loathing alcoholic (though in life she apparently can’t drink – eliciting an even deeper bow to the scope and understanding of her performance), and the child actor (Aidan Gould) around who the plot weaves, is not far behind in his ability to exude repugnance.

I couldn’t imagine enduring more than an hour of the convoluted narrative, and yet I was compelled by the perversity of the characterizations to see it through. Sentenced by her psyche to a life of miserable one-night stands, lost jobs, and ugly outbursts, Julia (Swinton) is glommed onto by an Alcoholics Anonymous co-member, played frighteningly to the hilt by Kate del Castillo. Although we, and everyone else, can sense that this woman is further gone than Julia, our protagonist is slowly enlisted in a kidnapping plot to retrieve the woman’s supposed son. Julia hatches an agenda of her own here, one that very shortly spirals out of her control, and we go on the dizzying journey with her, wondering if she’ll straighten out somehow at the end of her character arc…but Ms. Swinton is too honest an actor to fall prey to that.

Director Zonca, after what appears to have been a fallow period of almost a decade, indulges himself in frames filled with raging hysteria. Many of his choices are rewarding, and certainly he and Ms. Swinton are on the same wavelength.

The experimental nature of the film isn’t in its likeness to other recent works such as TRAFFIC, nor in its inordinate length, allowing for wild u-turns in a chaotic, occasionally unbelievable plot; rather the film’s daring reach is into the depths of its decadent characterizations. It’s a wrenching psycho-drama, and it challenges you to come along for the ride on its own terms. It also ends, after a tension-packed final hour, not with the resolution we might have hoped for. We are asked to just existentially accept the optionless fate of our luckless heroine. I have to respect it, though it isn’t an easy one to recommend for an evening’s fun group screening.

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