Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Code 46



UK 2003 (released 2004) : Michael WINTERBOTTOM : 92 mins (approx)

The predictably-unpredictable, workaholic team of Winterbottom and scriptwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People, In This World, The Claim) take a detour into science-fiction – with middling results. As in Andrew Niccol’s underrated Gattaca, DNA technology has assumed a primary importance in a near-future earth – determining who can travel where in a globe divided up into zones which are linked by strictly-controlled ‘gateways.’

The ‘plot’ is a wispy, sub-William-Gibson affair in about the awkward romance between a travel-monitoring official (Tim Robbins) and a mysterious young woman (Samantha Morton) he investigates in an overpopulated Shanghai. This central relationship provides what core the film possesses, but sadly isn’t sufficiently convincing to sustain a feature-length narrative. It’s frustrating that so many intriguing peripheral storylines and characters are left casually undeveloped: the many fans of willowy French actress Jeanne Balibar will fume at the way she’s confined to the briefest of appearances, when her character could have easily played a more decisive role in the narrative.

As it is, we’re left to dwell on the lack of chemistry between the two leads – and the fact that both of them have played this kind of role too many times before. As in Minority Report, Morton’s wide-eyed waif is cast adrift in a coolly high-tech future; and as she walks through a nightclub in beatific, strobey slo-mo, we’re suddenly into a kind of Morvern Callar in the 21st Century. But, just like Morvern Callar, Code 46 is redeemed by the close attention paid to moods, textures and sounds. There’s some lovely woozy cinematography by Marcel Zyskind, and both he and Winterbottom seem in love with their Shanghai setting. Their template seems to be Godard’s Alphaville, in which a bare minimum of props transformed 1960s Paris into an intergalactic future-world.

The evocative score also plays its part – if only because it’s often sufficiently loud to drown out the dopey dialogue – “The sphinx gave you a virus”, etc – that combines streams of jargon with quasi-Spanglophone neologisms to somewhat dispiriting effect. Not quite as dispiriting, however, as the film’s implication that Coldplay are going to be with us for quite some time yet…

rewrite 2nd September, 2004
(seen 24th August 2003 : Kursaal, San Sebastian : press show : San Sebastian Film Festival)
based on original review, from coverage of 2003 San Sebastian Film Festival

by Neil Young