Top positive review
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"I remember you from my dream, my birthday dream"
on 3 February 2005
Visually original and with some fine performances from Samantha Morton and Tim Robbins, Code 46 could probably be forgiven for being a cluttered, and rather confusing mishmash of ideas, themes and genres. The movie uses the cityscapes from the world as it is now, to convey a future of harshly, prohibited genetic matching, where travel is a luxury for those people living "inside," where a person's memory can be wiped in an instant, and where society is controlled by special codified passports called "papelles," which are de rigor for those individuals who want to move through the safe but administered urban zones.
William Geld (a really good Tim Robbins) is an insurance investigator who goes to Shanghai to investigate a factory where counterfeit papelles are being produced. His inquiries cast suspicion on Maria (a frantic Samantha Morton), and the two have a brief, intense affair, and eventually fall in love. In a system which potential parents are screened and unauthorized pregnancies terminated and supported by a technology of selective memory erasure, William and Maria discover that they are not permitted to cohabitate.
William and Maria have both violated code 46; a strictly policed law intended to prevent any accidental or deliberate genetically incestuous reproduction. How William and Maria navigate through these maze of restrictions, and the choices they have to make between comfort and freedom form the thematic core of the movie. It's probably much harder for them to remember their relationship than it is for them to forget it.
It takes about 30 minutes for anything to actually make any sense in this movie. Up until then, the narrative is so confusing, that most viewers will be scratching their heads in bewilderment and confusion as they try to figure out what is really going on, and where Maria is supposed to be working. This is a future world where globalization has been taken to an extreme, and where trans-national workers speak a strange hybrid of French, Spanish, Arabic and English. This is a good idea but the result is a constant sense of mystification and stupefaction that permeates and envelops the story.
However, Code 46 looks great and the decision by maverick British director, Michael Winterbottom to film on location in places like Shanghai and Dubai was a good idea, because he imbues his film with a sterile, ghostly, and often lonely ambience. The stark fluorescent affluence of ultramodern airports, subway concourses, smog-soaked skylines, and steel and chromed hotels are contrasted with impoverished outlying regions, where the poor live in shacks by vast freeways and barter their wares with wealthy tourists. Winterbottom shows us a world of great global mobility juxtaposed with extreme and acute inequality.
Morton and Robbins are an unlikely match, but they're both very good. Their steely, often reserved acting styles suitably match the sense of disparateness, isolation, and loneliness that saturates the movie. There's a sense of metallic gloom in Code 46 as both William and Maria are forced to navigate their way through a world that is probably closer and more realistic than one might think. Mike Leonard February 05.