With or Without You Review
Present-day Belfast. Vince (Christopher Eccleston) and Rosie Boyd (Dervla Kirwan) are happily married apart from one thing – no children. They've tried everything, but no luck. Then Benoit (Yvan Attal) arrives. He was Rosie's penpal for a number of years but until now they have never met. Rosie finds herself attracted to the handsome Frenchman. As their closeness turns into an affair, Vince restarts a relationship with old flame Cathy (Julie Graham)...
Michael Winterbottom made his name on TV, with episodes of Cracker and the Roddy Doyle miniseries Family. Since his cinematic debut in 1995 with the lesbian serial-killer road movie Butterfly Kiss, he's been prolific, exceeding a film a year and working in a variety of genres: the period literary adaptation (Jude, from Thomas Hardy), the war film (Welcome to Sarajevo), the Euro-art movie (I Want You) two contemporary comedy-dramas (the London-set Wonderland, shot with handheld cameras and natural light, Dogme-style, and With or Without You), to a western (The Claim, which is a disguised adaptation of Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge) to a music movie (the forthcoming 24 Hour Party People about the Manchester record scene). In style and sensibility, he's more "European" than "American", preferring character and mood to a strong narrative. His prolificity and versatility have to be acknowledged, but his films tend to be distanced: they're not as engaging or as moving as they should be. Wonderland, his best film to date, escapes most of these faults.
Winterbottom is possibly too prolific for the British distribution system: after some festival screenings, With or Without You bypassed a theatrical release and went straight to video and DVD. This is unfair, as With or Without You (which was filmed under the title Old New Borrowed Blue) is an engaging though rather slight comedy-drama. On the plus side it's very well acted, and gives a good picture of Belfast as a contemporary city without undue emphasis on the Troubles. However, it can't escape a televisual feel, partly because this is Winterbottom's first cinema film (after Butterfly Kiss) not to be shot in Scope. However, it's still better than many British films that did get a cinema release.
Although it says "16:9" on the case, With or Without You is transferred to DVD in anamorphic 1.85:1, which shows off some precisely-composed shots. It's a good transfer if a little soft in places (a natural-light look is intentional) but marred by some artefacting. The soundtrack is in 5.1, but isn't especially elaborate. This is a dialogue-led film, much of which comes out of centre channel, though left and right are used during some split-screen sequences. The surround is used mostly for ambience, and the subwoofer barely features at all. One flashback scene featuring French dialogue has burned-in subtitles.
Extras include the trailer, which is in 4:3 and runs 1:53. The other extras are material from the film's electronic press kit, shot on video and full-frame. The interviews (with Eccleston, Kirwan and Attal) are divided into short sections. Sometimes these are awkwardly edited with some sound overlaps. The featurette is basically an extended trailer with interview material (much of which turns up in the interview section) and is as bland as that implies. It runs 4:41. There are sixteen chapter stops.
Despite my reservations, Winterbottom is still one of the more interesting directors currently active in Britain, and for anyone who shares this opinion, or for fans of the leading actors, this DVD is recommended.