The Austin Chronicle

Code 46

Rated R, 92 min. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, Om Puri, Jeanne Balibar, Nabil Elouahabi.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 17, 2004

In the near future, cloning and in-vitro fertilization have become so commonplace that a law has been enacted – "Code 46" – to the effect that potential parents and partners must first be screened for any sign of shared DNA. Society – and it is difficult to call it a dystopia when so much of it seems so beguilingly bustling – has also been divided into two distinct parts, "inside," meaning the neon-bejeweled city hubs of New York, Seattle, Tokyo, Shanghai, and others, where the industrial and corporate work goes on, and "outside," which pretty much consists of everywhere else and looks like Fallujah minus the rocket strikes. Robbins is William Geld, an insurance-fraud investigator who leaves his wife and young son behind in Seattle for 24 hours to travel to Shanghai to investigate a case of stolen "papelles," travel papers that allow those on the inside to move across borders and work and live in foreign lands. A black market in stolen and counterfeit papelles thrives on the margins of the larger urban areas. Once there, Geld rapidly uncovers his quarry, Maria Rodriguez (Morton), and promptly falls in love with her, necessitating a series of increasingly risky moves on both their parts lest their extralegal love affair is uncovered by the omnipotent government surveillance. Code 46, which debuted in Austin at this past March’s SXSW Film Festival and since then has had only a sporadic series of openings in the U.S., may be one of the most perfect cyberpunk films ever made. It’s certainly the most interesting, merging as it does themes of the encroaching disassociative nature of globalism, renegade romance that recalls nothing so much as Orwell’s 1984, and the sort of production flourishes that make the whole exercise utterly believable. One such flourish comes in the form of the characters’ multilingual patois, a pidgeon hybrid of English, French, Spanish, and other Asiatic languages that has, one assumes, come into being as a result of the movement of workers from one country to the next and beyond. Anyone who’s spent any time in a major metropolitan city lately will recognize this linguistic trend as being something less than fiction, n’est ce pas? Both Morton, with her wide eyes and diminutive stature, and Robbins, who frankly towers over her, retain the look of people much younger than their respective ages (Morton, in particular, can look downright infantile when she pouts), which makes them appear, in the context of Winterbottom’s film, like children on the run from Big Brother, which, of course, they are. The real stars of Code 46, however, are the cityscapes that surround them, at once coolly imperious and impersonal and strangely neighborly. No matter where you are in this future world (as long as you’re "inside," that is), you’re already home. But home apparently isn’t where the heart is anymore.

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