360’s title is a bit deceiving. Unlike the play La Ronde where this movie is based on, the multiple characters and series of relationships they have don’t neatly follow a circle. That is to say, the people in the story don’t neatly trade sexual partners in a linear progression until everything, as the movie’s tagline suggests, comes full circle. Instead, the movie shows a tangled web of illicit affairs, passionate trysts and sexual transgressions. There is no foreground and background — all the individual converging storylines are almost uniform in scale and importance as they crisscross each other in a basketweave pattern.
Similar to movies like Babel or Traffic, 360 is an anthology of intersecting stories about love and lust, but director Fernando Meirelles never lets anything explode to a fiery climax. Like a disinterested spectator, he chose to tell this story in a very sanitized way. Its a highly cerebral movie that merely plots out the multiple configurations that he plants his characters in across different, mostly European cities. This isn’t a big problem, really. But for a film about how sex drives our emotions and encourages us to cross social boundaries, its a bit odd that it doesn’t actually make you feel.
Scattered throughout the film is a smorgasbord of performances that vary in quality and affect. Take for example Ben Foster, who delivers a convincing performance as a sex offender newly released from jail. The multitude of temptations that greet him pushes him to the verge of a nervous breakdown, and we get to see how the bustling airport, which for most people is simply a chaotic sea of bodies, transforms into a torturous prison for someone like him. On the other end of the spectrum are half-baked performances from Rachel Weisz and Jude Law, who play a married couple with affairs of their own. We never really get to understand their source of loneliness and the reason they want to sleep with other people. Its this sort of nuance that gets lost because the story jumps around from couple to couple without lingering for very long.
But it is this lack of permanence that defines this movie. One commonality among all the characters is how they are always moving, always in flux. The movie is bookended by quotes about forks in the road and how one, at some point in their lives, must take them. Thus, the primary settings of the movie – the hotel room, the airport, the interior of the airplane and the car – take on an extra significance. The constant movement of bodies emphasizes the transience and fluidity of urban relationships, where sex is less personal and more transactional. The stylized cuts and editing complements the movie’s frantic, globe-trotting pace.
Ultimately, the movie still won me over despite its cold treatment of human interactions and uneven tempo. The movie could’ve been more taut had Mereilles dropped more peripheral characters (like the Brazilian photographer, for example), but its hard to make that judgment because the link between characters are so intimate that taking one out will be like pulling from a precariously built house of cards. But the movie’s artistic merits and precise construction still makes for an intellectually engaging experience.