360 is a kaleidoscope of interconnected love and relationships linking characters from different cities and countries in a tale of romantic life in the 21st century.
In the opening shot of Fernando Meirelles’s 360, we see a woman, Mirka (Lucia Siposova) in a medium close-up. She is standing against a tatty backdrop and stares directly into the camera. She looks hard, uneasy and guarded, as an off-screen voice talks her through a photo shoot/audition for online prostitution. Without words we see a world of shame, anger, hunger, determination, hope, self-doubt, and aspiration all move across her clenched—initially—face like molten wax in a lava lamp.
360 is a stunning film, expansive as the world—from a crummy apartment in Bratislava to an AA meeting in Arizona—and no less expansive in the characters’ unarticulated emotion, like the troubled terrain of Mirka’s face. The 360 is the 360 degrees of a circle, and like Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde on which this is loosely based (an influence on possibly more films than the Bible, from Ophuls to Vadim to P.T. Anderson, and even the TV show ‘MASH’) features overlapping stories of love, of betrayal, of misunderstanding, linking the disparate characters as the movie passes from one to the next, relationships compounding and refracting. It’s basically systems theory, only in screenplay form.
This—if it is a problem—is the main problem of the film. Foregrounding the structure necessarily draws attention to the artifice. Normally, structure is not quite so much on the surface, used as scaffolding to hang all the good stuff on; here it’s an exoskeleton. But this is no more structured, no more predicable, than any Hollywood movie. Although F. Scott Fitzgerald would have it that there are no second acts in American life, there certainly are in American movies. The second act occurs around 20 to 25 minutes in (usually), and it’s where the love interest is given time to develop, or Shrek given time to fight the dragon and Robin Hood, or time to explore Jake Lonergan’s bandit past and tragic home-life in Cowboys and Aliens. And then the third act. Like clockwork. A resolution. Inevitable as teenage acne. And we like it, this rigid construction. The friction we feel with 360 is that, with a structure so metronomic, there are few surprises as to where we’re being lead; it can at times feel mechanical, and predictable as a relay race.
That said, there are peculiar joys to be found that are not necessarily present in more traditionally transperent structures: a chance to savour the moments because you don’t have to keep your eye on the road; the thrill of watching Meirelles play the game; the pleasure of serial first meetings, having the benefit of knowing the sinuous back stories of characters. This allows for some excrutiating suspence in several key scenes, one in particular when two characters are brought together in a hotel room when an airport is shut down by a snowstorm. When Laura (Maria Flor), a jilted Brazilian woman, wounded and dangerously incautious from her heartbreak and seeking connection, revenge, validation, and solace in inadvisable amounts of alcohol, meets Tyler (Ben Foster), a paroled sex offender, afraid of recidivism and unschooled in normal social cues, the film sparks with tension. When he tries, admirably, to extricate himself from a potentially uncontrollable situation, she reacts ferociously, rejected yet again (she feels), but for reasons not in her understanding. In the small daily accidents strung together by Meirelles—in dentist offices, in get-away cars—we see the whole world, in its danger, in its tenderness.
Even if, perhaps, all the various threads don’t weave together into a perfect tapestry, 360 is, nonetheless, an object lesson in excellence of film craft. The stuff of cinema—the imagery, the mise en scene, the editing—is virtuosic. Full of sublime grace notes and performances of ingenuous complexity, it is a film of loss, resignation, forgiveness, compromise, and ultimately just simple human connection and our responsibility to, as much as possible, take care of each other when we can. 360 is a film made by a humanist with a nearly unparalleled and courageous talent.
360 is showing as part of the 55th BFI London Film Festival