September 10, 2011

THE BIJOU @ TIFF: Fernando Meirelles’ “360”


If Arthur Schnitzler had only been a member of the WGA in 1900, when he wrote the play La Ronde, and he’d had the benefit of the format rights guild members receive today, he and his descendants would be very rich indeed.  Schnitzler’s concept, a series of sequences in which, initially, Person A meets with Person B, who in the next scene encounters Person C, who then shares a scene with Person D, and so on until Person Z is with Person A, has become a archetypal structure for both literature and drama.  The newest entry to be inspired by Schnitzler’s work is 360, directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) from a script by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon). which premiered tonight at the Toronto Film Festival.

Schnitzler’s play used its format to make a point about interrelationships between the classes (and, since the relationships were all implicitly sexual, a darkly comic one about the spread of venereal diseases).  In the Meirelles/Morgan version, the title 360 refers not only to the degrees of a circle, but also the circular nature of the Earth; unlike Schnitzler’s tale, which took place entirely in Vienna, the film begins in that city but then travels around the world, with stops in London, Paris, Bratislava, Denver, Phoenix and other locations before returning to Vienna.  The point of all this, however, is more obscure.
The connections between the stories in 360 are somewhat more tangential than in La Ronde.  a hooker in Vienna doesn’t quite meet a businessman from London (Jude Law); a recovering alcoholic searching for his long-lost daughter (Anthony Hopkins) strikes up the barest friendship on an airplane with his Brazilian seatmate (Maria Flor) who’s returning home after a bad romance.  The result is that one has to hunt for an overriding theme, other than chance decisions and the coincidences cited by the narration.  Is the film saying something about globalization?  Modern morality?  If its only reason for being is to note that one fluke can lead to another, that’s not a very satisfying theme.
That being said, 360 is often quite enjoyable to watch.  The soundtrack alone, which includes an extraordinarily diverse set of songs, is exceptional.  Beyond that, Meirelles has assembled a very fine cast both famous (Rachel Weisz and Ben Foster, in addition to Hopkins and Law) and relatively unknown (Flor, as well as Tereza Sbova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov and Dinara Drukarova).  There’s also impeccable photography by Adriano Goldman, and a remarkably lucid job of balancing multiple stories by editor Daniel Rezende (who also worked on City of God). 
A film like 360 is almost by definition uneven, since watching it is more akin to following an anthology than a typical narrative.  Some of the episodes are genuinely moving and suspenseful, while others feel like slack connective tissue.  What should make the work succeed as a whole is the uniting purpose of the enterprise.  Here that seems to be deeply buried if not lacking, and the result is a picture that never brings its circle together.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."