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The story of two Scottish "squaddies" (young, trainee soldiers) who hitchhike to Budapest to go to a concert of the band Simple Minds. The film is a love triangle between the two soldiers and one beautiful Hungarian girl.
Rosie and Vincent know each other for ten years, and are married for five. She doesn't like her job, he isn't too pleased working with her dad. They're trying to have a baby. One morning Benoit, a Frenchman and former pen pal of Rosie, whom she never met, comes to visit. Did Rosie love him? Does she love him now? Written by
If Snow White had been directed by Godard, with funding from the BBC
True to form, the ever iconoclastic director Michael Winterbottom decided to follow up a serious triptych of films, including Jude (1996), Welcome to Sarajevo (1997) and the underrated I Want You (1998), with this throwaway romp that today seems more like the pilot episode to a discarded ITV soap opera. I suppose if it was simply an excuse for the filmmaker to experiment with certain cinéma-vérité-like techniques before making the modern-classic Wonderland (1999) then the end might have justified the means. However, for the most part, With or Without You (1999) could be seen as a largely unassuming romantic comedy drama dealing with the love, in/fidelity and fertility of a humble, middle-class couple from Belfast, and the problems that arise when old flames (and old desires) decide to re-ignite.
Here, Winterbottom is aided by a strong cast of performers, headed by semi-regular collaborator Christopher Eccleston and Goodnight Sweetheart/Ballykissangel star Dervla Kirwan as the couple going through a series of personal-problems during the process of conceiving their first child. The supporting cast is also fairly credible, including talented actors like Julie Graham, Yvan Attal, Alun Armstrong, Doon Mackichan and Fionnula Flanagan, who all manage to bring a certain sense of weight to an otherwise ordinary script. For the most part, the visual presentation of the film is flat and, as the previous reviewer noted, reminiscent of a post-watershed television drama. However, there are the occasional hints of a more intersecting idea developed, with many of the images often composed so as to appear as windows within windows; similar to what director Peter Greenaway did with The Pillow Book (1996) and 8 and a 1/2 Women (1999). There's no real need for this device here, other than for the fact that it seems to conform to the director's view of the material as a sort of Godardian retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, complete with the scheming wicked witch, a forest scene and many more obvious attempts at mirror symbolism.
Certainly, Winterbottom is an intelligent filmmaker, and it is this intelligence that makes even his most insipid or seemingly unremarkable films at least watchable on a superficial level. Here, the film's climax on the beach seems like a direct reference to Godard's Pierre Le Fu (1965) and Weekend (1967) respectively, whilst, for a film that aims itself so squarely at the made for TV demographic, there are a number of fairly adventurous (and indeed, somewhat explicit) sex scenes peppered throughout. Although this is certainly a bland and pedestrian work from Winterbottom - who is still one of the most interesting British filmmakers currently at work - the film does at least offer an hour and a half of easy-to-digest, undemanding entertainment.
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