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BLINDNESS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshino Kimura, Don McKellar, Maury Chaykin, Mitchell Nye, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: February 10, 2009

ďI wonít forget your voice!Ē

ďAnd I wonít forget your face!Ē

Film ***1/2

Movies dealing with the end of the world or an epidemic wiping out society have become so frequent in the last several years. Though Iíve enjoyed many of these films (from 28 Days Later to I Am Legend), they all follow a similar pattern, leaving me to wonder if such a story could be told with a fresh and unique spin on the material. Blindness is, without question, the first film to make that possibility a reality.

This is a bold piece of visionary filmmaking from Fernando Meirelles, director of the brilliant City of God and The Constant Gardener. It represents his biggest departure yet, both in story and visuals. I canít stress enough how amazingly powerful the visuals in this movie are. If Kubrick ever got a chance to make an apocalyptic film, Iím sure it would look something like this.

Based on an acclaimed 1995 novel by Jose Saramago, the film is not so much the epidemic that causes the downfall of the infected society. Rather, it is very much an allegory about what happens to the people in such a matter. In that respect, Blindness ends up being scary and disturbing in a way you donít get from watching a horror movie.

The setting is an undisclosed city, and characters arenít given specific names (something I didnít realize until after I saw the movie). A disease is causing people to go blind instantly. The first victim is struck in his car at a city intersection.

He then goes to visit a doctor (Mark Ruffalo), who is baffled by the patientís condition. Afterwards, a few more patients arrive complaining of sudden blindness. The doctor then gets infected the following morning.

Before long, over 90% of the population has become infected with the illness known as the ďwhite sicknessĒ. The control the situation, the government orders the blind to be quarantined at a containment site. The doctorís wife (Julianne Moore) is basically the only one who hasnít been infected, but she fakes her condition in order to be with her husband in the quarantine zone.

In many movies like this, itís normal to see the government portrayed as the villain as the victims fall prey to their new form of order. But Blindness paints an even more disturbing portrait. The quarantine facility soon turns into a concentration camp of sorts, and many of the infected fall victim to their own sense of fear.

Things grow even more heinous when a self-appointed king of the blind (Gael Garcia Bernal) gets his hands on a gun, starts to control the food supply and orders everyone to follow his rules. It then gets to the point when he starts ordering the women to perform sexual favors for the men in exchange for food. After being pushed to the limit, the doctorís wife uses her best kept secret, sight, to fight back and help set the people sheís watching free.

One of the filmís most arresting elements is the visual technique use to illustrate the blind effect. The screen will periodically turn into a milky white from time to time, which reflects one characterís description of what itís like to be blind. Meirelles and cinematographer Cesar Charlone do a thoroughly masterful job of conveying this feeling, as well as giving the film one of the most original color palettes in film history.

Though I find the film to be excessively powerful, itís not an easy film to recommend. Blindness is one of the bleakest films Iíve ever seen, and it offers little to no explanation of many things. If that kind of thing frustrates you, then you may want to steer clear of this one.

But I can honestly say that this is quite unlike any film Iíve seen, at least one dealing with an widespread epidemic. Visually stimulating and, at the same time, not afraid to venture into the darkest areas imaginable, Blindness is a film experience that is simply hard to forget. It illustrates more than ever that Fernando Meirelles is filmmaker whose films have a long lasting effect on those who experience them.

Video ****

Though Iíve been growing more accustomed to the HD format (and Iím mostly surprised this didnít get a Blu-ray release), the flat out amazing look of this Miramax release illustrates that standard DVD shouldnít be written off at all. The unconventional visual style established by Meirelles and his DP is rendered in extravagant beauty throughout the movie. The bright white color palette helps to provide one dynamically clear and tremendously detailed picture, and the few sequences consisting of darkness are handled great as well. Itís a presentation that Iíve already considered as one of the very best looking discs of the year!

Audio ****

The film also has a unique sound to it, which is something the 5.1 mix takes brilliant advantage of. Sound techniques are established along with visuals used to indicate the blind effect. And once the action shifts to the quarantined facility, the side and rear channels get a tremendous working in terms of mainly voices of the blind coming from multiple areas. Music and dialogue delivery are also as top-notch as it gets!

Features ***

There are two main extras on this disc. We get five Deleted Scenes with a written introduction by Fernando Meirelles, and an hour long documentary titled ďA Vision of BlindnessĒ, which is a extremely detailed look at the production of the film, from the shooting process leading all the way up to its premiere screening Meirelles held specifically for author Jose Saramago. Quite revealing!

Summary:

Blindness is a film that is simultaneously startles the senses and challenges the mind. Itís hard to find a film these days thatís capable of doing both. If you can stomach the disturbing parts, which there are a great deal of, then I definitely recommend this one-of-a-kind film experience.

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