‘360’: Will it go ’round in circles?

August 3, 2012

The second film of the summer inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s “La Ronde,” Fernando Mereilles’ “360” is an intriguing jigsaw puzzle of a movie, less schematic than Schnitzler’s play (or “30 Beats,” the dreadful film of a couple weeks ago). Still, it’s more interesting for its individual pieces than what it has to say as a whole.

Written by Peter Morgan (‘Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen”), “360” does come full circle, at least in a couple of cases. When it doesn’t, well, it still offers compelling slices of life, wedges of the circle, as it were, that come complete with deep feeling and, at times, real suspense.

The film starts in Vienna, with a young woman, Mirka (Lucia Siposova), posing nude for a slimy, Slavic-accented creep with a ponytail in a Vienna studio. He explains that her photo on the Internet will earn her customers as an escort, who will, in turn, give her money for sexual favors. Some clients have been known to give girls so much money that they’re able to quit yada yada.

She and her sister head home to Bratislava, only to return to Vienna when she gets a nibble. But her first client is a businessman, an automobile executive (Jude Law) away from home – and he gets cold feet. Instead, he goes back to his hotel room alone, then leaves an affectionate message on his wife’s answering machine.

The other stories connect from there: a Brazilian photographer in Paris whose mistress (Rachel Weisz) decides to end their affair; the photographer’s girlfriend (Maria Flor), who also dumps him (for cheating on her) and winds up on a plane to Denver en route to Rio de Janeiro (damn those cheap Internet fares!). She meets an older man (Anthony Hopkins), who is on his way from London to Phoenix, searching for his daughter, who has been missing for some time.

When the two of them are stranded in the Denver airport because of a snowstorm, she mets a young man (Ben Foster) on his way to Kentucky. But, in fact, he is a sex offender just paroled to work-release – and her impulse to have a fling with a stranger is exactly the thing he is least capable of handling.

There’s more: a dental assistant who has a crush on her boss and wants to dump her distant husband; the husband, who is driver/henchman to a Russian mobster; the lovesick dentist, who fears that acting on his feeling for his married assistant will be an affront to Islam.

Morgan is less interested in tying things up neatly than in getting to an emotional core of each character. Each one gets a moment of truth, spoken or otherwise, in which a life-changing decision must be made. Some of these feel more organic than others; some create tension that can be unbearable.

Mereilles doesn’t get fancy about it. He simply moves from story to story, plunging in and, thanks to Morgan’s concise, perceptive writing, finding the nugget of each story without having to indulge in a lot of exposition. This is a movie that counts on the audience to pay attention and make the connections for itself.

Not all the storylines pay off in some great “Aha!” moment. But each provides something emotionally compelling, whether it’s Hopkins telling the story of his daughter; the dentist (Jamel Debbouze) stalking his assistant (Dinara Drukarova) without daring to speak to her; or Foster, confronted with the worst kind of temptation, wrestling with his own dark impulses. The ending itself is a nice switch-up that feels satisfying, if not necessarily a surprise.

“360” goes round and round, though it doesn’t always connect the dots. See it for its willingness to take you somewhere you don’t expect.

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