A Vicious Circle, by David Bax
In the previous decade, films with interwoven stories of people looking grim flooded the cinemas (21 Grams, Crash). Unfortunately, they’ve never gone away. Even more unfortunately, as evidenced by films like last year’s Answers to Nothing and Fernando Meirelles’ new 360, the offspring of that first wave are even more hollow and miserablist than their ancestors.
360‘s approach, with a few exceptions, is to follow a circular pattern (hence the title). It starts in Vienna and follows one character back to London where it picks up a new character whom it follows to the States and so forth till we get back to Vienna. These are generally stories of people engaging in infidelity or some other seedy sexual arrangement.
Meirelles and screenwriter Peter Morgan (adapting a play by Arthur Schnitzler) don’t actually have anything to say about people and their libidos, other than the probably unintended moral that sex is poisonous. One would be forgiven, though, for assuming they were taking the topic quite seriously, given the prevailing gloom of the film’s aesthetic. Everything here is deadly serious but, since there’s nothing serious actually taking place, it’s also terminally silly (when it’s not torturously dull, that is).
Perhaps the film could be better if it weren’t hampered by its own tired storytelling device. The problem is that when we latch onto a good performance or story like Anthony Hopkins as a divorced man looking for his daughter, we don’t get to spend nearly as much time as we’d like with them. There are small mercies, however, in the fact that the awful stories, such as the one where Ben Foster plays some kind of catch-all sexual predator, are over before too long.
There is one segment in which a gangster’s driver (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) meets a young woman (Gabriela Marcinkova) who turns out to be the sister of the prostitute who’s upstairs fucking the gangster. The ridiculousness of the setup aside, it’s a charming short story of two people flirting with the carefree happiness they don’t generally feel they deserve in their lives. Yet, placed as it is among the rest of the film’s vapidity, it’s unanchored and thus its impact is weakened.
So far, the connected stories format has proved to be a net loss for cinema. But even 21 Grams, for all its soapy preposterousness, used the method to address the ways in which our public actions have effects on people we’ll never know. The only end to which 360 employs it is to attempt to appear cleverer than it really is.