Friday, July 22, 2022

What Goes Around Comes Around: “360”

One thing we’ve learned in the era of COVID is that we’re all in this together. Particularly as we return to international travel, we’re re-discovering (via transmitted infections that are now running rampant around the globe) that, in the famous words of John Donne, no man is an island. That’s one of many thoughts that came to me in the wake of watching Fernando Meirelles’ 2011 film, 360. This structurally ambitious drama (it’s not for nothing that Meirelles once studied to be an architect) was written by the eminent Peter Morgan, best known for such royal projects as The Queen, The Crown, and The Last King of Scotland. Critics and audiences were not charmed by 360, and I can understand how the film’s intricacies will seem to some overly calculated. But my late-night viewing of this unheralded film left me with much to mull over.

 In some obvious ways, 360 owes a debt to Arthur Schnitzler’s notorious 1897 play, La Ronde. Schnitzler broke international taboos by depicting diverse pairs of lovers (a soldier, a housemaid, a young gentleman, and so on) before or after coitus. One of the pair in each scene moves on to another tryst in the next, hinting that sexuality knows no boundaries of class and economic status Eventually we come full circle, with the prostitute-character from the very first scene bedding the nobleman introduced near the end.  (Schnitzler does not concern himself with relationships transcending conventional gender roles, but his play outraged audiences of his own day and led to attacks on his character and his ethnicity.)

 In 360, too, many of the interlocking relationships are based on sex, but characters are considerably more complicated. As in: the British familyman played by Jude Law, while on a business trip to Vienna,  has nervously set up an assignation with an ambitious would-be prostitute from Slovakia. By chance it doesn’t happen,  but she re-enters the film much later, making a killing (so to speak) as part of a scheme to rob a ruthless gangster-type. Obviously, part of the film’s point is that you never know what will happen when you intersect with other human beings. Sometimes, in fact, great things may come to pass, if you’re only brave enough to seize the day. (Says one newly-emboldened character, “If you see a fork in the road, take it.”) On the other hand, audacity can also lead to tragedy. One memorable strand involves a young Brazilian (Maria Flor) living in London. Fleeing her two-timing lover, she boards a plane to fly home, meeting on the way a  wistful old Brit (Anthony Hopkins) searching for his long-lost daughter. Their brief encounter is enlivening to both of them, but an unexpected weather delay in the Denver airport puts her in the path of a convicted sex offender (Ben Foster) who’s desperately trying to control his illicit desires, at the same time that she’s experimenting with carefree hedonism.

 The production leans hard on a stellar international cast speaking a babel of diverse tongues. (Several of the characters are tied together by their serious struggles to learn English.)  360 was shot on location in Britain, France, Austria, and elsewhere, suggesting the degree to which our world has shrunk due to airline travel. Stylistically, Meirelles does wonderful things with glass panels and reflecting surfaces. In diverging from Schnitzler’s La Ronde, it feels modern in both its story and in its film aesthetic. I could pick it apart, but why do that? Frankly, I do not want to spoil my memories of a splendid diversion from my own humdrum summer days.


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