on 13 March 2004
Over the last decade, Michael Winterbottom has emerged as the most intelligent and creative filmmaker working in Britain today. Unlike his contemporaries, he is unconcerned by the pressures of the U.S. and the importance of the Hollywood movie-system, and instead, has crafted a series of visually distinctive and emotionally heartfelt films dealing with a range of subjects; from sexual jealousy, infertility, modern-day alienation, the American frontier, and Manchester's vibrant post-punk music scene. His best films have fused dreamlike imagery (often drawing on Bergman and Kieslowski as his primary inspiration) with an almost-documentary sense of time, place and character. In This World takes that idea to new and unexplored levels, giving us a film that sets up an anti-reality, which allows the film to drift in and out of the real and the surreal at any given time to further establish the strained connection that the characters literally have with the world around them.
The sense of space seems lifted from the work of Iranian filmmakers like Samira Makhmalbaf (the Apple, Blackboards) with the idea of heightened reality coming from the employment of non-professional actors and the general cultural background of the characters. In the opening scenes, Winterbottom offers us an anachronistic narration to give the film a further sense of reality, whilst later scenes show townsfolk and children gazing with wonderment into the camera lens. This façade of the real, (though it is a fictional account based on fact) is so successful, that whenever a character died on screen the people who I viewed the film with questioned whether or not Winterbottom was creating some kind of art-house snuff. The actors are drawing on real experiences, and it is this element that gives the film its unrivalled emotional control and unbelievable sense of tragedy (lead 'actors' Enayatullah and, in particular, the young Jamal Udin Torabi, are both unconventionally outstanding).
Winterbottom keeps the episodic narrative running smoothly, using the fallen innocence of Jamal as the catalyst for the film. He anchors this with the use of imagery also; handheld digital video with jump cuts, slow motion, time-lapse, night-vision photography, colour filters... all are used to create a dislocated atmosphere, in an attempt to make the character's surroundings both alien and threatening. It works, Winterbottom, along with his cinematographer, create some of the most beautiful images of contemporary British cinema. Meanwhile, the technical transfer of the DVD brings out the best of the vibrant, rugged photography (though one minor let down in the lack of proper aspect ratio, the widescreen being the more generic TV 16x9, as opposed to the cinematic 2:35.1), whilst the 5.1 stereo-sound captures the wild-hustle and confusion of the locations perfectly.
Elsewhere on the DVD there are trailers, and a collection of behind the scenes footage with a voice-over from Winterbottom who discusses the difficulties his small crew faced in shooting the film and the impetuous behind it's evolution from a written script into a more documentary style-drama. Winterbottom's film is moving and compassionate without ever feeling the need to rely on cloying sentiment or exposition-by-numbers... he allows his film to unfold naturally, leaving it to the central performers to create a connection with the audience. It is so refreshing to see a contemporary British filmmaker shunning the influence of Hollywood and instead looking to filmmakers like Samira Makhmalbaf, Maryiam Parvin Almani and Abbas Kiarostami. Like the works of those individuals, this is important, intelligent, imaginative and above all else, serious filmmaking, which should be experienced by as many people as possible.