360: Toronto Review

Another stimulating yet all too calculated take on La Ronde, where a series of life-changing events comes full circle.

Director Fernando Meirelles and Peter Morgan team up for an international drama, starring Jude Law and Rachel Weisz, designed like a thriller but more in love with the notion of fate.

The ever-surprising Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles toys with the audience in his latest film, 360. He unravels various storylines with many possible outcomes, most of them bad if not dreadful, then teases viewers with other, more hopeful possibilities. Sometimes the movie even draws a curtain on a moment of crisis only to pick up that plot thread afterwards. With a starry international cast and multinational locations, you never take your eyes off the screen for a second. On the other hand, this is a cold and cerebral movie, where one’s attachment to any particular character or story is tentative at best.

You watch the film rather than get absorbed by it. It’s art house with Hollywood credentials, somewhat like Meirelles’ last film Blindness(2008). So despite the presence of Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz, in French-speaking territories Jamel Debbouze, and in German ones Moritz Bleibtreu, 360 will only breathe that rarified air.

The screenplay comes from the prolific Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen), who must never leave his word processor. But his script is not without many antecedents. Superficially, the movie is inspired by Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler’s Der Reigen, first filmed by Max Ophuls in 1950 as La Ronde. The idea of a linking series of events, usually romantic or sexual, that come full circle has inspired many other films including Ken Kwapis’ Sexual Life in 2005, Peter Mattei’s Love in the Time of Money in 2002 and Temístocles López’s Chain of Desire in 1992.

However, you get a better picture of Morgan and Meirelles’ approach if you think of Babel crossed with Sliding Doors. Rather than one scene leading directly to another, the film hops across cities, oceans and languages — the links in this case are airliners and airports — with connections among the characters only becoming apparent over time. What ultimately links the stories is that everyone faces a crucial decision.

The movie begins with an unusual quote: “If there’s a fork in the road, take it.” Unusual since in the U.S. at least that quote is generally attributed to the noted sage Yogi Berra, a Hall-of-Fame baseball player known for his colorful mauling of the English language. Do Morgan and Meirelles know this?

Anyway they litter their roads with forks: An English businessman (Law), in a barely functioning marriage, gets blackmailed by a German colleague (Bleibtreu) while his wife (Weisz) tries to break up with her young lover. Her lover’s disgusted Brazilian girlfriend (Maria Flor) flees London to return home, meeting an ex-alcoholic and lost father (Hopkins) on a flight that becomes snowbound in Denver, where she then meets a paroled sex offender (Foster).

With a nod to Schnitzler and possibly Ophuls himself, the movie starts in Vienna, travels to Paris, London, the U.S. and various airports, then back full circle to Vienna for its one moment of violence — which takes place off-camera.

The choices eventually made by the movie’s characters are interesting enough, although not necessarily the ones the audience might “root” for; however, they seem predicated as much on the sliding doors of fate as on carefully considered thought. The film is actually devoid of any moral other than the capriciousness of destiny. Or perhaps the linguistic carelessness of Yogi Berra.

Like Blindness, 360 is a beautifully mounted production with pristine art direction and cinematography in several countries. Every major actor gets at least one chewy scene although a few feel forced such as Hopkins’ AA confessional where he explains to fellow ex-drunks — and the audience — his thought process in making his big decision.

There is another thing that annoys you though, possibly afterwards more than while watching the movie, and that is the teasing nature of all this: A person arriving a moment or two earlier, or later, might well have resulted in a different resolution. After all, what’s on display here is not the capriciousness of fate but rather of the filmmakers. Indeed they seem to go out of their way to have elevator doors close at just the right moment or people look this way instead of that.

So La Ronde 2011-style is simply a game and its makers expert gamesmen. The film is never less than intriguing. But the artifice shows all too clearly.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Revolution Films/Dor Film/Fidélité/O2 Filmes/Muse Films
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster, Jamel Debbouze
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Screenwriter: Peter Morgan
Producers: Andrew Eaton, David Linde, Emanuel Michael, Danny Krausz, Chris Hanley, Marc Missonier, Olivier Delbosc
Executive producers: Peter Morgan, Fernando Meirelles, Christine Langan, Klaus Lintschinger, Paul Brett, Tim Smith, David Faigenblum, Graham Bradstreet, Steve Gagnon
Director of photography: Adriano Goldman
Production designer: John Paul Kelly
Editor: Daniel Rezende
Sales: Wild Bunch
No rating, 115 minutes