the narrative is an outstanding biblical parable, there’s strong social undercurrents on pollution and immigration, but mainly- it’s a masterpiece because of the absolutely stylistic tour-de-force from Cuaron—it has become one of the textbook examples of film art in the 21st century– camera movement, long takes
it’s not just camera movement—it’s as gorgeous a mise-en-scene as Cuaron has produced (which puts it up there with the masters)- detail in bodies, graffiti, rabble, architecture as character from Welles, Ozu or Rossellini
greens, greys and light blues—a defined color palette- Cuaron is back on his color (like he was with his greens in the 90’s) after a bit of break with Y Tu Mama Tambien – the color is mood and it fits- it’s Antonioni Red Desert, Kieslowski color trilogy,
“Ruby Tuesday” is used twice for 5 seconds for great affect- once to show emote on Owen’s beaten face remembering his son, and the other with Michael Caine’s goodbye to his wife
Dystopian influences—1984, Brazil, Metropolis, Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, 28 Days Later, Blade Runner– but this is its own thing- strong color
Danny Huston’ gorgeous “Ark of the Arts”- theological of course but stunning mise-en-scene
There are noir elements- this is a reluctant hero
The death of Julianne Moore (bit of a L’Avventura/Psycho killing off of the star early element) is an absolute stunner of a oner—Cuaron is showing off with the ping pong ball trick, the entire thing is about 4 minutes, complicated action, cracking glass, flames, stunt-work—it absolutely adds to the intensity of the scene
Of course much of it is set in very green forest and woods
Operatic music at the barn during the pregnancy reveal—beautiful- and Owen says “Jesus Chris” which will be done again three times
The action sequences held without a break are the poster child to defy those who say it’s just style
Caine dazzles in his scenes- humor, life, vitality in a bleak world
The single greatest wall-art shot (and there are dozens) may but the shot of the swing set through the broken glass—we go back to again with Peter Mullan confronts Clive
The scene where she gives birth in a long take would be the best scene in 99.9% of films and it’s probably 6th here- it’s a long take, intense, brilliant
the finale is perfection
The baby crying causing the cease fire and the long take (the longest of the film) of the POV battle tracking shot on Owen’s shoulder is transcendent- some of the best work of the decade and perhaps the decades best film
[…] Children of Men – Cuaron […]
To add to the “noir-reluctant hero” part, this is from Fergus, the screenwriter:
“They eventually hit on the “spine” of the script, imagining the storyline as a dystopian spin on the “Casablanca” formula: “We realized it’s about a scarred hero who used to be a revolutionary and then lost so much that he’s become walking scar tissue,” Fergus said. “That’s how we pitched it to executives, and all of a sudden they could imagine it as a movie. It wasn’t some arid, chilly, British exploration of abstract philosophy,” Fergus said. “It was ‘Casablanca’ — emotional and thrilling.”
I always thought that Clive was doing Bogart here, and it’s clear that his persona was a key inspiration here
Also some very interesting layering I saw (not my discovery):
In the Ark of Arts scene Theo is told that La Pieta was not saved and was destroyed, La Pieta is of course the stature of Mary (mother) holding Jesus’ (her son) dead body (in a very famous pose). In that scene, on the mural in the background we also see the La Pieta pose being recreated (https://imgur.com/a/9lPmkCq). And then later on in the film, there is a mother that is shown holding her dead son (in the La Pieta pose) in one of the shots in the war zone sequence (and the camera really lingers on her), Cuaron is specifically highlighting this among all the chaos and things of interest around it). More hidden religious imagery and connections in the mis en scene. To take this even further: The mother recreating the La Pieta is shown speaking in Sinhalese. Which is Cuaron/Fergus referencing real trauma/war zones that were going around the world at the time (Sri Lanka was going through a civil war)
Incredibly impressive stuff. It kind of reminds me of all the subtle layering and hidden connections/foreshadowing going on in Magnolia. You can do a separate viewing of the film by just focusing on the background
Now this next part is speculative, and it’s from my brain. Im not necessarily endorsing it but just throwing it out there because… why not? I’ve seen people have readings of the film where they think that “due to art being lost, the world was doomed”. Kind of as an offshoot of the famous “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it“ quote. Art and history are synonymous, and especially in this context as the art in question is Mary holding Jesus’ lifeless body as opposed to something fictional and not relevant to human history… ya know?Basically what I’m getting at is that I wouldn’t be too surprised if the film is very subtly (This film has shown us that Cuaron puts an exponentially large amount of attention and detail into the subtle details in the background and subtext) trying to showcase that because art/history was forgotten (La Pieta destroyed), history was repeated (another mother is grieving the loss of her son). And I mean this example representing this idea on a much larger, metaphorical level (preserving and studying art/history is key to never repeating the same mistakes), not a very specific (if the statue wasn’t destroyed then this child would have lived) level.
This is my #1 film of the century as of right now (I still have to check out Cuaron’s other Masterpiece Roma and The Tree of Life however)
@Matthew- Great addition to the page here- thank you for sharing- so much of this brand new to me.
@Matthew – I only caught this somewhat recently myself, given how much you praised it, I am quite confident you will think very highly of Roma which also has incredible attention to detail and amazing mise-en-scene. Of course Roma is a very personal film, really a “memory film” based on Cuaron’s experiences growing up in Mexico City, particularly his relationship with his housekeeper.
Out of curiosity what did previously view as the best film of the 21st century?
So I actually saw this for the first time several months ago (May I think) and it’s basically been 6 months of this and There Will Be Blood constantly swapping spots. The introduction of In The Mood For Love has had me challenge this belief, but *for now* I have that below these 2 by a razor thin margin. Mullholland Drive, The Master, Birdman and Jesse James have also given me pause, amongst others of course
@Matthew – all great choices, very similar to mine actually
There Will Be Blood (2007) would be my pick.
In the Mood for Love (2000)
The Tree of Life (2011)
The Master (2012)
Old Boy (2003)
I’ve recently come to see Kill Bill as Tarantino’s 2nd best film to Pulp Fiction. Despite the 2 volumes I view them as one film (per Tarantino’s wishes) and viewing them as one film they are a legit contender in my book
zodiac is of course another great one. I’ve yet to see Kill Bill or Old Boy but I’ll add those to the list