I think Winterbottom is a special talent. He works relentlessly so his films are more like small focused experiments instead of carefully mapped-out narratives. I personally have no problem with that. Ruiz works in a similar way, moving right along after a project, always mining new corners of intuition, solving prior problems while creating new ones.
What an exciting life!
So coming to this, you may feel a bit cheated. It is partly sci-fi after all, and the rules of the world depicted are not elaborated upon. But the broad strokes are still there: fresh techonology, the government as Big Brother, restrictions on pure freedoms like romance, youthful idealism as a kind of rebellion that leads to criminal activity, etc. There is also the common notion of ‘outsiders’. Usually they would have to live underground and involved in some kind of coming and going between the two worlds. Here, they are relected to a location outside of the technologically-advanced realm. For some reason, it appears to be India, depicted as an overpopulated uncontrolled space. It is supposed to be a world of relentless labor and danger.
That’s the world…and in my opinion simply an ornamental excuse for the clever idea at the heart of the story. This story is something similar to ‘Eternal Sunshine’, but where that launched into dreams, this crawls through actual drama. We do share skin, we do breathe along. Does he leave, does he stay? Does she accept his departure should it happen? Some of that effect comes from the performances, some of it from the framing and the cutting, the score. I think this borrows from Kar-Wai’s and Doyle’s visual notion of disafection. I say ‘borrow’ and not copied because the style is integrated differently, and also because it’s acknowledged by setting the movie in what looks like Hong Kong. But where Wong is langorous, his narrative entangled in the style, Winterbottom here is into soft punctuation: something that is there but reinforced…like heavy breathing.
So it is a successful project. More surprising is that it is deliberately unstudied, almost unsophisticated. Simply a pure rush. Done so quick. And on to the next…
This man has good intuitions.
There are a few ornaments which I found endearing. Language is basically English but some words are borrowed from Spanish and French. This I assume is a nod to the Spanish technique of layered storytelling, a technique used in this story through the motif of memory loss (which causes regenerated realities, renewed love, and a dream whose ending takes place outside of it). The French? You figure it out.