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Retrospective Film Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

Sunday 15 February 2015

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past eighteen months, you won’t have failed to hear about a little film called Gravity, directed by Children Of Men director Alfonso Cuarón, and the waves it made following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August 2013.

Indeed, Cuarón’s film went on to win seven of its ten nominations at the 86th Academy Awards. The plot is sublimely efficient and economical; during a routine spacewalk, debris from a nearby satellite hurtles towards the five-man crew of the space shuttle Explorer, devastating their ship and equipment on impact, and leaving Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) adrift and spinning out into the vast chasm of infinite space. What follows is ostensibly a one-scene, near one-take ninety minute movie that in 3D – in gimmicky, ghastly 3D… I can barely bring myself to say it… – works gloriously well, as the astronauts attempt to stay alive in their unremittingly harsh environment.

Trust an ambitious, astute director like Cuarón, yet to misstep behind the camera, to create a movie that conjures deepest primal fear and most profound empathy for its protagonists from the most granular of elements. If ever there was a movie made for the immersion 3D always promised and never delivered, this was it. Out in space, with no plane of balance or finite perspective to lock on to, Cuarón’s camera is free to drift, hurtle, spin and float with the action he synthesises, whilst Cloony and Bullock deliver powerful and flawless performances from the restrictive confines of their spacesuitsand of course, we’re right there with them, as their hands frantically seek a lifesaving purchase and our pale blue dot spins and glistens silently beneath.

Steven Price gifts the picture with an expansive and emotive score, and London’s Framestore VFX impeccably sell the setting, but Gravity is possessed of a poetry that transcends its many technical achievements. The physical machinations of struggle for survival are augmented by equally rich and rewarding character motivations – particularly in the case of Bullock’s fearful Dr. Stone, a woman for whom letting go is imperative if she’s to hold on. And like Stone, Gravity too lets go – of convention, of traditional structure and tonality, of conforming to genre and trope – and emerges a triumphant and radical example of truly visionary cinema.