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Somewhere, out there, is a world in which science fiction cinema is not defined by special effects. Where a science fiction film is more than just an excuse for pretty CGI and theatre-shaking explosions. Every now and then, a film falls through the cracks in that world and arrives in ours, a film like Solaris or The Truman Show; a film that, against all the odds, actually has something to say.

Such a film is Code 46. Ignore the naffness of the title; ignore too the badly-worded titular legislation as it flickers across the opening credits. You don't need either. One of the many satisfying things about the film is that it lets you learn the world for yourself.

In fact, in many ways it's the world that is the star of this show; Director Michael Winterbottom and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce have done a remarkable job of creation. Their future is recognisable yet complex, with a web of ideas that shape and direct the film's characters. The important point there is ideas, plural. Too many sf films have one core conceit, and maybe a bit of pretty window-dressing. The world of Code 46 has at least half a dozen major components, and most importantly they interact in an organic, believable fashion.

The story: William Geld (Tim Robbins) is a fraud investigator who infects himself with an 'empathy virus' to aid his inquiries. Maria Gonzalez (Samantha Morton) is an assembly-line worker who makes 'pappelles', documents that are a combination of passports and genetically-validated insurance documents. Their relationship, which begins when William impulsively covers for Maria's forgery sideline, is the axis around which the film turns. It's interesting, the more so thanks to the ambiguous perspective (whilst the camera follows William fairly closely, the story is framed by Maria reminiscing in voiceover), but it's also perhaps less compelling than the portrait of the dystopia-through-indifference that they inhabit. Nobody wants William and Maria to suffer; there's no 'bad guy'. It's just the way that things work out.

At least as important is the style in which, and with which, the story is told. The acting is entirely naturalistic, and William and Maria are real people, in a way that's hard to describe, but uncommon in filmed sf. The locations--Seattle, Shanghai, the Middle East--are lovingly, sometimes spectacularly, shot with cinematography that is by turns fragmented and disjointed, or hazy and dreamlike, or clear and sharp.

At times it really does feel like nothing so much as a film from another world rather than about another world. The backdrop may be reminiscent of Gattaca but the atmosphere and focus, a combination of global dislocation, sharp observation, and a sort of melancholy honesty, echo nothing so much as Lost in Translation. It certainly seemed very incongruous to be watching it as part of a Fright Fest film festival. This is a very human piece of science fiction, telling a thought-full, feeling-full story; and when it gets a more general release later this month, it is very much worth checking out.
Can I copy this for DiverseDVD.com (or would you prefer simply a link to this entry?)
Either is fine by me. I could go and submit it myself if that would be easier?
Yes that would be easier - nice man.
Boyce is, intriguingly, the guy behind Millions.

And Winterbottom has an interesting CV:
# Code 46 (2003)

# With or Without You (1999)
# Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
# Jude (1996)
# "Cracker" (1993) TV Series (episode "The Mad Woman in the Attic (1993")
# "Time Riders" (1991) TV Series
# "Boon" (1986) TV Series
I wonder why Code 46 flew so far under the radar of the mainstream press... Any ideas? (Unless it didn't, and I just managed to completely miss the reviews.)
I wonder why Code 46 flew so far under the radar of the mainstream press

The latest issue of SFX lists the general release date as September 17th, so I guess we'll have to wait until then to see what sort of coverage it gets.

Also, you missed 24 Hour Party People off Winterbottom's CV!
IMDb has it as 2003...

I've never been interested enough to learn more about 24HPP... Is it any good?
Hmm. Not 2003 for a UK release, though, surely? But, damn. That probably makes it ineligible for the Hugos. :-/

I've never seen 24HPP either, but I've wanted to for a while. Will definitely search out a copy now.
And Samantha Morton! Morton, of course, being the one truly great thing in Minority Report.

With regard to "2003": delayed UK release??

446 people have rated it on IMDb, which seems to indicate it has been seen in some, small circles... somewhere.
seems to indicate it has been seen in some, small circles

Circles which DID NOT UNDERSTAND, apparently. I mean, I'm willing to conceded it's perhaps not to everyone's taste. But a six? Pfft.
Spoken like a true zealot. :o)
And the film of Millions is directed by Danny Boyle...