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Blindness - drama DVD / suspense DVD / arthouse and international DVD review
BLINDNESS Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 1/2 stars
Actors: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Danny Glover, Gael Garcia Bernal, Susan Coyne
Director: Fernando Meirelles   Studio: Miramax
DVD release: 10 February 2009   Runtime: 120 minutes (1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
DVD Features: Aspect ration 1.85:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital Digital 5.1 Surround - English), Subtitles (English, Spanish), "A Vision of Blindness," Deleted scenes

Imagine everyone in the world goes suddenly, inexplicably blind - what would you do? More importantly, how would your government and social services agencies react?

That's the premise of the 1995 novel by Nobel Prize winner José Saramago. Originally published in Portuguese, the novel was widely translated and critically acclaimed. The film version's reception has been entirely different.

Considered an unfilmable novel, the movie Blindness has been roundly panned by both viewers and critics alike. In fact, though, the film is brilliant in all respects. Don McKellar (Last Night) has done a great job of adapting the novel; his screenplay is true to the original while nicely condensing the novel long-winded philosophical digressions. Director Meirelles (The Constant Gardener) pushes hard on the action, never letting the film sag into didactic maundering, the way the novel does. The photography is stark and beautiful and the acting wonderful - no mean accomplishment, that, as all the parts are played by sighted actors.

Meirelles takes big risks with Blindness, starting with his choices of cast and language (the film is in English): the film falls outside the marketing niches within which American viewers cage themselves, and this largely explains the negative reaction to the film in this country. Is it sci-fi/horror? Yes. Is it drama? Yes. Is it speculative documentary? Yes. In other words, the film is not the typical Hollywood pabulum upon which Americans thrive. If he'd made the film in Spanish, it might well have become an instant cult favorite among the art-film crowd.

Set in an unnamed city (São Paulo is the primary location) that is meant to invoke Your City, USA, a plague of "white blindness" suddenly afflicts the population, at first in ones and twos and then en masse. No explanation is given for the source of the blindness (we assume it's contagious, perhaps viral, but the implications are also that an ethical contagion is to blame). Rather, it is the cultural and individual responses to the plague that are the focus of the film.

As more and more people succumb to the blindness, they are forced into quarantine: old barracks and abandoned warehouses are stuffed with the newly blind, where they are left to fend for themselves. In this microcosm, and like Lord of the Flies, entire societies emerge, evolve, breakdown and reform.

Dark and dystopian, the film is full of disturbing images, black comedy and occasional moments of compassion and redemption. Perhaps because few American reviewers have watched the film through to the end, Blindnesshas been written off as having a "hopeless vision." To the contrary, the story works its way through the blindness to come out on the other side with something deeply hopeful. Rather than a picture of despair at the state of human kind, the film presents us with a cycle of addiction, breakdown and recovery.

Spanish and English subtitles; "A Vision of Blindness" - Making of Blindness Documentary; deleted scenes
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reviewed by Brian Charles Clark
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