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Birth

Terrific acting and fearless direction transform what might have been a silly exercise in the slightly spooky into a somber and deeply romantic mystery. Ten years after her beloved husband, Sean, died while jogging in Central Park, Anna (Nicole Kidman, in a becoming ROSEMARY'S BABY-style bob) has decided to move on and marry her longtime suitor, Joseph (Danny Huston). At their engagement party, Anna unexpectedly runs into Sean's old friends Clifford and Clara (Peter Stormare, Anne Heche), but Anna's resolve remains firm. No sooner does she set a date for the wedding, however, than a strange encounter with a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) gives her a discomfiting emotional jolt. The child wanders into an intimate birthday dinner Anna and her pregnant sister, Laura (Alison Elliott), are throwing for their mother, Eleanor (Lauren Bacall), at the family's sprawling Upper East Side Manhattan apartment, interrupting the festivities to announce that he is in fact Anna's dead husband. He also tells Anna that he loves her, and warns her against marrying Joseph. Anna tries to laugh the whole thing off as a rather painful prank; after the child leaves a second warning with Anna's doorman, Joseph has a talk with his father (Ted Levine), who teaches trumpet to another building resident. Anna can't help but wonder how the kid knows so much about her and her life with Sean — a life that ended the year he was born — and when she agrees to meet him in Central Park, she finds him waiting at the very spot where her husband collapsed. Anna claims she only wants to put the past behind her and build a new life with Joseph, but finds herself falling in love with "Sean" all over again. As absurd as Anna's dilemma may sound, it plays surprisingly well on screen. The screenplay, which flirts with intergenerational romance without ever seeming perverse, was originally conceived by director Jonathan Glazer and Jean-Claude Carriere, who wrote a number of Luis Bunuel's most daring films, including DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1964) and BELLE DE JOUR (1967). Not every scene works, but the elegant production design and powerful performances gloss over the glitches; Kidman, in particular, achieves an astonishing level of subtlety. In one daringly long, tight close-up at a symphony performance, she simultaneously expresses reawakened grief, hope and love, while accepting what she knows is impossible. Kidman doesn't speak a single word throughout the entire scene, but it's one of the finest moments of her career.