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Julia (Erick Zonca, 2008) March 29, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films.
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Written by Aude Py and Erick Zonca
Directed by Erick Zonca
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Aidan Gould, Saul Rubinek

What could be more rewarding than seeing Tilda Swinton, in and out of the frame, recklessly wild and frantic, for two and a half hours? A lot of things could—realistically-speaking—but her presence in Julia is too unshakable, too electrifying to miss, and too standout to escape one’s notice and liking. Director Erick Zonca zonks Swinton out with a most grueling requirement for the principal character, which, considering her reputation to make her roles monstrous regardless of screen time, only turns the experience into an unforgettable snowball ride.

Swinton plays the title character, an alcoholic wasting her life away, losing her job and friends, and eventually losing control of her self that she decides to kidnap a millionaire’s grandson. The plan is initially between her and the kid’s Mexican mother, but in the end Julia, in her hopelessness and derangement, takes the rich kid on her own and negotiates terms by herself.

The film begins with a biting character study, presenting a picture of how Julia loses it in night bars, waking up in someone else’s car, drunk and wasted, and has no one to turn to except her close friend Mitch. From there—with the convenient introduction of Julia’s neighbor, a flustered mother whom she met in an AA support group—Zonca decides to plant the seed of a thriller, soon to grow, erupt, and crawl into different places.

It’s a dangerous risk with a hectic promise of reward, but Swinton runs amok with a nerve-wracking performance from start to end, bearing details which upset and amaze at the same time, seeing the lengths that Julia goes through with her hostage, dragging the child from California to Mexico. Their relationship wavers to the extremes of motherly affection and fiendish bouts, to the extent of Julia pointing the gun directly at the child and forcing him to drink too many sleeping pills. She is a madwoman, only madder when Swinton gives her a distinct life and infernal characterization.

Only she can make a “nipple peeping out of the bra” scene look so casual yet so remarkable, especially how its pinkness leaves a fond memory of her character—she is a sexy woman, come to think of it—Swinton not knowing that she is being surreptitiously looked at, the viewer regarding even the little twitches of her eye as incredibly urgent, what more when she flares up. Swinton’s appeal is not caring whether she looks pretty on camera or not; she creates herself, unmindful of the eyes on her, and the character leaps out in the process, a beautifully sculpted literary oaf like Julia whose blinking is as commanding as seeing her growl.

One scene in particular, when Julia returns home and slips out of her dress, leaving her completely naked, she walks in and out of the room as she dons another dress too short to cover her pubis. Her nakedness is seen from afar yet there is something very attractive about it—pulling, in fact—that is far from sexual but aesthetical, like gazing at nude paintings and inspecting them with clinical respect. She is distant yet completely tangible, breathing with a lot of madness in her that her incredulous decisions only become consistent with her personality. Julia draws the audience to her too much that when Zonca cuts them off from her, concluding the film in an unexpected turn, her character stays like a disturbed spirit, releasing a catharsis of violent proportions.

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