Sunday, November 26, 2006

Breaking and Entering

Sometimes the best things happen by accident, and due to a complete lack of planning, trying to fit too much into the day and a re-creation of Hugh-Fearnley Whitingstall's fish pie from 'The River Cottage Treatment', we were running far too late to catch the film we had intended. We arrived at the cinema without booking an alternative, only to find the next performances sold out.

This was beginning to look like the 'Comedy of Errors' as we finally had to book a late film which meant that we had a couple of hours to kill, but time spent in the company of a loved one passes all too quickly and we were soon snaffling popcorn in front of our hastily chosen substitute.

We had finally settled on Antony Mingella's latest film, Breaking and Entering, which the 'PreVue' magazine had described as 'understated'. Now this might put others off, but we actually like films where not much happens, not that this really applies to the work in question. In reality, the plot unfurls steadily, allowing for plenty of healthy introspection and discovery of the characters' motivations.

The main character, Will, played by a suitably moody Jude Law, is an architect who is transforming the area of King's Cross. We learn that his personal relationships have a close parallel with the architecture in the film - looks cannot hide the grim reality lurking underneath. His wife, Liv, is a beautiful Swede but suffers from Seasonal Affecting Disorder, and spends hours in front of a light box. They also have a daughter who is hyper-active and will never sleep at night. So despite the success of his work life, his home life is starting to crack.

Through the machinations of the plot, Will visits some iconic sixties concrete flats - you may have seen them - the ones that face each other across a walkway and step out gradually from the top so that each flat has a small outside terrace. These too look great on the outside, but during an inevitable chase sequence we get to see the dark spaces, beneath the flats, accessed via the service road, that were all too often were created in this era. These dank hell holes where no light reaches are an underworld of crime and seedy activity where the designer clothed architect seems totally out of place.

I worried that in forty years time, Will's transformation of King's Cross, with its canals, glass and steel might suffer the same fate. Like a lot of stunning architecture, has it really designed to be used? Has the creator thought about how the people who inhabit his world will interact with the spaces he is creating. For long after the critics have departed and the photographers have gone, it is the humble occupant who must judge the building, and they may not rate it so highly.

Still life does have a habit of being influenced by people's surroundings and if that is what the architect intended then it has been an outstanding success. Modern spaces have evolved a new art form: parcours - the art of using the built environment as, literally, a jumping off point. The free running sequences in the film continue the beauty within the cracked landscape theme further and act as a thread to join sections of the narrative flow together.

The crime of the title, is just a device to delve deeper into the relationships between people and their environs. To not go and see this - now that would be a crime.

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