Code 46

(Michael Winterbottom, UK, 2003)


Every tired cliché of the science fiction genre since Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) is duly on display in Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46, belatedly released in Australia two years after its appearance elsewhere.

The world of the future has become a highly controlled state apparatus divided between densely populated cities and unregulated outlands where refugees gather. Genetic manipulation rules. Everyday speech is English mixed with a smattering of French, Spanish and Chinese words. An individual’s memories can be implanted or erased. And the most fearsome thing of all, in the eyes of the authorities, is the prospect of a man and woman freely deciding to have sex together for no higher purpose than pleasure.

William (Tim Robbins) is a detective with a special gift for empathy. His investigation of illegal passport activity leads him to Maria (Samantha Morton). Their love breaks all the rules – and does not please William’s wife, Sylvie (Jeanne Balibar), either. Then the net of surveillance and punishment closes in.

Winterbottom, like Olivier Assayas, is a filmmaker who wallows in a certain chic cosmopolitanism – his good-looking characters hop around the globe in the blink of an eye – which masquerades as a critique of globalisation. He is widely admired for his prolific, resourceful and chameleon-like way of making films, but his work often seems rushed and underdeveloped.

There are good elements in Code 46 – such as intelligent casting and atmospheric locations – but there is little logic to the futuristic society sketched by Winterbottom and his regular writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. Just who controls this world, and what does its ant-like industry produce? The film is so intent on evoking a dreamy melancholy – which, like in some Abel Ferrara movies, seems mainly prompted by the marital infidelity of itinerant males – that it skips past such intriguing questions.

However, the movie does have a quite kinky scene, reminiscent of a crucial turning-point in Paul Schrader‘s Cat People (1982), which is better than all nine sex-acts in Winterbottom’s 9 Songs (2004) put together.

© Adrian Martin August 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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