Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, Blindness, The Constant Gardner, etc) once again demonstrates how far away from reality his films can take us, but at the same time how closely he can examine human foibles so that rather than being a spectator he involves the viewer into squirming through our own errors of assignations, past, present and future. The screenplay for this extended psychological thriller is by Peter Morgan (Longford, The Queen, Frost/Nixon. The Last King of Scotland, etc) and yet both men attribute the inspiration to Arthur Schnitzler's 1897 play La Ronde which scrutinizes the sexual morals and class ideology of its day through a series of encounters between pairs of characters (shown before or after a sexual encounter). By choosing characters across all levels of society, the play offers social commentary on how sexual contact transgresses boundaries of class. Meirelles and Morgan weave together the stories of an array of people from disparate social backgrounds through their intersecting relationships in locales such as Paris, London, Bratislava, Rio de Janeiro, Denver and Phoenix.
The audience must pay full attention to the stories as they unwind as there is a huge cast of characters and most of them, even though briefly at times, are interconnected. The film opens on Vienna where a photographer is taking stills of a Bratislava girl `Blanca' (Gabriela Marcinkova) who is being molded into a call girl while her hesitant sister observes. We then see Blanca's first assignment, a British business man (Jude Law) who is thwarted in his pickup by a business rival (Moritz Bleibtreu): the business man is married to Rachel Weisz who in turn is in a torrid affair with a photographer (Juliano Cazarré) who in turn is married to a girl in a red beret who works as a dental assistant for a dentist (Jamel Debbouze) who in turn stalks the dental assistant with guilty and unspoken passion. We also meet a young man Tyler (Ben Foster) as he is being released from prison as a sex addict and fears entering the world of women. In an airport in Colorado a gentleman (Anthony Hopkins) still searching for his missing daughter befriends Laura (Maria Flor) and while their flights are delayed Laura meets Tyler and decides to seduce him, but the terrified Tyler cannot navigate through his past guilt and fails to let Laura have her daring passionate way. The coincidences mount with many more substories than these and in the end much comes together back in Vienna when the now practiced call girl Blanca is involved in a one night stand with an exceptionally wealthy and ruthless Russian (Mark Ivanir) whose bodyguard meets Blanca's sister and the two share a friendship that has a surprise ending.
This is only a smattering of the characters that populate this mesmerizing story, a story that is at times overwhelmingly confusing but when dissected slowly it produces a sense of awe in the viewer. This is most assuredly a thinking person's film but one so exquisitely made that it deserves several viewings to grasp all the subtle nuances. For those willing to commit, this is a brilliant film. In English, French, Russian, Arabic, Ukrainian, and Portuguese with subtitles. Grady Harp, July 12