If the movie is finally something of a failure as a romance, it's rarely less than a triumph of soulful imagination. When it played at festivals last year (including Toronto, where I first saw it), Code 46 was sometimes shown alongside the film Winterbottom had made just prior to it—the brilliant refugee drama In This World, which depicted the harrowing journey undertaken by two Afghani youths seeking to emigrate to the U.K. In This World was one of Winterbottom's best, and Code 46 is never as strong a work, but it's easy (and rather fascinating) to see the new film as a version of the earlier one, made using radically different materials. Both tell stories of people seeking freedom in societies that place little value on individual liberties. Both are deeply concerned about immigration, globalization and the tension that's created when people with different beliefs attempt to live together, without presuming to offer facile solutions to those gnarly dilemmas. Yet while the improvised, video-shot In This Worldstarred a cast of unknowns and looked as coarse as the sand dunes its characters traversed, Code 46 sports recognizable movie stars and luxuriant, neon-flushed cityscapes (even though it was, in fact, made relatively on the cheap, using futuristic-looking locations in present-day Shanghai, Dubai and Jaipur) and can't help but reach a larger audience. So, the ever resourceful, chameleonic Winterbottom has yet again changed his appearance without fundamentally changing what he has to say. He gives us a smorgasbord of food for thought in a time when most fiction films are an ideological famine.
CODE 46 WAS DIRECTED BY MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM; WRITTEN BY FRANK COTTRELL BOYCE; PRODUCED BY ANDREW EATON; AND STARS TIM ROBBINS AND SAMANTHA MORTON. NOW PLAYING AT EDWARDS UNIVERSITY, IRVINE.