Monday, 21 October 2013

A review of Michael Winterbottom's "I Want You" [1998 UK]

Michael Winterbottom's haunting melodrama "I Want You" is one more of his underrated works. For a British film set in coastal Kent and Sussex, it bears a distinctly continental flavour.

Having served eight years for murder and released on parole, Martin (Alessandro Nivola) returns to his home town and attempts to reconnect with former sweetheart Helen (Rachel Weisz), who was fourteen when she last saw him. He stalks her unseen at the beginning - Helen, now a hairdresser, is courted by local radio DJ Bob (Ben Daniels) for the last six months. We're also introduced to mute fourteen year old Honda (Luka Petrusic) and his protective adult sister Smokey (Labina Mitevska), after Honda gets knocked down by Helen in her bicycle. The siblings - refugees from the former Yugoslavia, have no parents and live in a seaside cottage. Honda has the strange habit of listening to and recording from a distance conversations of people who interest him, which includes her promiscuous sister and her sexual activities - it doesn't seem to concern her too much, and the siblings are also shown comfortable naked in each other's presence.

Honda develops a crush on Helen and begins recording her activities too, who in return will endear herself to her young admirer despite his questionable, yet somehow innocent hobby. Martin will confront Helen, and their relationship will resume from where it left off, much to parole officer Sonja's (Geraldine O'Rawe) dismay. She dissuades him from contacting Helen and asks him to leave town if he's to avoid being sent back to prison. It is only through her associating Helen with Martin's conviction, do we become privy to their collective connection with his crime. Helen's façade of a demure and simple woman comes crashing down from then on, and Honda unwittingly bears witness to disturbing events that'll unfold in front of him...

Made immediately after his critically acclaimed Welcome to Sarajevo, Winterbottom retains a Balkan connection with the film, alongside his collaboration with young Yugoslav-born Labina Mitevska - currently a prolific and respected actress in European cinema. It was also early days for the Academy and BAFTA awarded Rachel Weisz, whose character exudes a latent but dangerous sexual energy that'll attract men's attention, sometimes violently. She'll become a major international star following her next film (The Mummy). Alessandro Nivolo, and Graham Crowden who appears in a minor role, were perhaps the only recognisable names among the cast at the time, and these may have been factors that contributed to the film's relative obscurity. The performances nevertheless showcase their potential, and anticipates their future stardom. Young Luka Petrusic deserves a special mention, not only because it is his character (Honda) that threads through the other characters in the film, but also for stealing a march over other actors with his charm - quite unusual for a lanky teenager of that awkward age - and I'm sure most males will agree with me on this.

But the film also has other virtues waiting to be uncovered, like the association of each of the main characters with a colour-coded palette - green for Martin, blue for Helen, and yellow for the siblings - reflecting their nature and outlook. Small wonder that the cinematographer also happens to be Slawomir Idziak - a Krzysztof Kieslowski regular who'd collaborated on memorable classics such as The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colours: Blue. The screenplay could have been better, but Winterbottom's imaginative direction delivers, by creating an atmosphere that keeps the audience engaged, and also by offering a surprise ending. Like most of Winterbottom's early films that require an upward reassessment, this film too is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Labina Mitevska, David Fahms, Dee Dee Menta, Alessandro Nivola, and Rachel Weisz
The nude scenes will interest both men and women since they're positively erotic without necessarily going overboard. It also includes a rare instance of sensual nudity from a black male (David Fahms) - it is unfortunate that an actor's race require mentioning in this blog, but I need to on this occasion, because whenever black characters are depicted nude in mainstream films, it's usually under duress (enslaved), or in distress (tortured). There is also rare frontal nudity from an exquisitely beautiful Rachel Weisz and a nubile Labina Mitevska. Dee Dee Menta appears nude as stripper Maxine who Martin engages. There is also partial nudity from an uncredited actress at the beginning of the film.

Rachel Weisz, Labina Mitevska, Alessandro Nivola, and others nude in the Michael Winterbottom film I Want You


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