A city is ravaged by an epidemic of instant "white blindness". Those first afflicted are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital where the newly created "society of the blind" quickly breaks down. Criminals and the physically powerful prey upon the weak, hoarding the meager food rations and committing horrific acts. There is, however, one eyewitness to the nightmare. A woman whose sight is unaffected by the plague follows her afflicted husband to quarantine. There, keeping her sight a secret, she guides seven strangers who have become, in essence, a family. She leads them out of quarantine and onto the ravaged streets of the city, which has seen all vestiges of civilization crumble. Written by
Festival de Cannes' Editor
"If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed", said the great Stanley Kubrick, who adapted most of his films from novels and turned them into his own films, rather than being too literal (or faithful, if you prefer) to the source material (and often turning authors and fans of the adapted novels crazy Stephen King, anyone?). I agree with his statement. No literary work is "unfilmable" which doesn't necessarily mean any literary work, good or bad, can be turned into a good movie. However, in spite of a few flaws, "Blindness" is a very efficient adaptation of a brilliant (and very complex) novel by Portuguese author José Saramago, "Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira" (literally, "Essay About Blindness"), and doesn't deserve all the bad reviews it's been getting.
The negative reaction towards the film doesn't surprise me at all, though. Fernando Meirelles, after getting world acclaim with his neoclassic "City of God", made a very successful transition to an international project with the beautiful "The Constant Gardener". His sophomore English project is very daring and dark, uneasy to watch at times, but also compelling and thought-provoking.
César Charlone's exquisite cinematography sets the tone for the story of an unexplained "white blindness" epidemic. It's also a huge asset to have such a phenomenal actress like Julianne Moore to play the film's heroine: as always, she has a strong presence and is extremely expressive, making everyone believe and feel for her character's cross of being the only one who can see in a chaotic quarantine, where people have to submit to violence and rape in order to survive.
My only major complaint is about the uneven first 20 minutes or so: some sequences seem a little disjointed and the acting somewhat amateurish, but once the first act is done the film finds its own pace and strength. Roger Ebert called it "one of the most unpleasant, not to say unendurable, films" he's ever seen. For a start, it would be stupid to assume a film with such a dark premise would be uplifting (and if Ebert had the slightest knowledge about the material it's based on, he'd realize what he was up for), so his comment is unintelligent and atrocious like the majority of everything he's ever written (but he's a widely popular Pulitzer-winning film critic, so unfortunately lots of people trust his opinion before going to see a movie). Even though I still prefer the outstanding novel to the film, I admire director Fernando Meirelles and writer Don McKellar's adaptation for what it is: smart, daring and respectful to its source material, without being overtly faithful or afraid of taking risks. And Saramago himself approved the film, so who are we to criticize? The man knows what he's talking about; if you want to see it for yourself, read his novel now and then compare it to this film, appreciating it not as a literary work, but as the good piece of cinema it is. 8/10.
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