The film begins with an appropriate oedipal image: surly, spotty, 15-year-old Jack (Robertson) masturbates in front of a mirror, while out in the garden his father keels over and dies. Later, when their mother follows suit, Jack and his older, more pragmatic sister Julie (Gainsbourg) adopt a quasi-parental attitude to their younger siblings. Unusually, they bury Mum in the basement, lest as orphans they be taken into care. Jack longs jealously for Julie. Birkin's film of Ian McEwan's novel soon settles into a claustrophobic mood, the sweltering summer matching the overheated adolescent emotions. Gainsbourg and Coulthard (as sister Sue) give fine performances, the former balanced between bossy provocation and vulnerability; and Birkin keeps it all in line by avoiding sensationalism and showing a tender understanding of youthful confusion. An unusually sensitive and, dare one say, cinematic Brit Lit adaptation.
The Cement Garden
Cast and crew