Oana (Vera Farmiga) show up a half-hour into Breaking and Entering. A Russian prostitute prowling alleys in the King’s Cross section of North London, she finds her way to a car occupied by two architects, Will (Jude Law) and Sandy (Martin Freeman). She can’t know that they’re on a self-designated “stakeout” of their firm, which has suffered a couple of break-ins. And she can’t know that neither is much interested in her delights, including fuzzy blond hair and a fur collar about the same color.
“Fifty pounds, whatever you want,” she offers, sliding inside the car despite the men’s protestations. She assumes mobility, but it’s limited to this space, inside the car (she demonstrates her ability to dance provocatively in the car, while other scenes show characters riding along in their vehicles, motionless in their seats and gazing away from one another). As soon as Will opens his mouth, she lays down her condition: “Except talk.” Her cigarette held high, her bracelets jangling, Oana notes that animals don’t talk, “because they don’t lie.” And so the film announces—once again and heavy-handedly—its thematic focus: people deceive one another, feel bad about it, then lie some more to cover up over the first story.
Oana’s role is brief and somewhat significant. She’s one of several simultaneously seductive and intimidating women who unnerve Will, the others being his longtime girlfriend and Swedish documentarian Liv (Robin Wright Penn), with an autistic 13-year-old daughter Bea (Poppy Rogers), and his lover, Bosnian refugee Amira (Juliette Binoche), with an angry teenaged son, Miro (Rafi Gavron), half Muslim and half Serb. (Sandy has his own fascination with a woman he both adores and fears, the cleaning woman who works in their office, Erica [Caroline Chikezie], but it’s a side project for the film, which is too bad because it looks to be a lot more interesting than Will’s predictable fretting.)
Anthony Minghella’s latest film is not so sumptuous as The English Patient or Cold Mountain, but it’s even more annoying. Once again, the white folks learn deep and valuable lessons from ethnic and raced “others,” eve as they worry repeatedly about their “place” in the larger scheme of the world, a scheme they can’t hope to fathom, mainly because they’re white. As Will looks out his nice townhouse window, he spots a fox nosing about, suggesting, perhaps, that a wildness yet exists within his enclave. He does venture forth each day to his office—located, as Oana observes, in a “bad place”—but for the most part, Will’s world is a function of his… er, will. Focused, practical-minded, and increasingly frustrated, he remakes the environment for clients, in virtual models and clever theoretical formulations, while trying to do the same in his own life (at the same time, cinematographer Benoît Delhomme makes sense of all environments with nimble, inquisitive framing).
If Will is an artist paid for rethinking space, he meets a sort of match in Miro. The boy first appears as he is engaged in the film’s titular act, specifically, as he’s stealing from Will and Sandy’s office, scaling walls and ascending rooftops, then making his escape by some trendy parkour moves. That is, the young man’s traversing of space is more physical and even more literal than Will’s, but their passions are similarly energetic and differently misdirected. Miro works through his anger—his dad is unexplained/missing, his mom reticent, his options limited—by taking up with a local burglary crew. Yes, he’s exploited for his particular skills, but he’s good at it, and thinks he’s getting over in his illegal acts.
At first, Miro (like everyone else, his name is overcharged) is pursued by the determined Bruno Fella (Ray Winstone); soon Will joins in the chase (which explains his stakeout of the office when he meets Oana). When Will discovers the boy’s home and “infiltrates” by bringing his jacket to the seamstress Amira. Their subsequent affair is full of tensions: he’s getting back at Liv (by whom he feels neglected, as in, “I feel as if I’m tapping on a window, you’re somewhere behind the glass, but you can’t hear me even when you’re angry, like now”) and mostly unable either to soothe or figure out Bea (a gymnast, she works on her own moves into the early mornings, repeating and repeating, seeking order apart from her mom and stepfather’s arguments).
While Breaking and Entering leans heavily on its metaphors (see especially, the titular allusions), it doesn’t make any of its roiling notions compelling. It’s as if noting them is enough: the contests here are divided neatly by class, nation, and gender, as well as generation. Mostly, these frictions are revealed through Will’s perspective, with occasional commentary by those intimidating women. When, for example, Will clumsily offers Oana a bottle of Liv’s brand of perfume (in an effort to cover up their nightly assignations in his car—drinking coffee and watching the building, as he doesn’t have sex with her, only with Amira—she must instruct him. Her own strong perfume, she observes, is “my job.” “Do you think I like to smell like this” Do you think I like to wear panties which cut my pussy in half? Men are incredible!” And she sprays him with his own perfume.
Alas, Oana’s lesson is lost on Will, who believes he can manage his deceits, of himself as much as “his” women. She wonders at his efforts to control nature, to rid himself of the fox in his garden. “Turn the whole world into a park,” she advises. “Go ahead, clean up. Because we will move to another alley and we will take the foxes with us.” And, she doesn’t add, the clean up will persist in her wake. For those who believe they can possess and so order their worlds tend to marshal economic and political wills, maintaining a sense of security by the rearrangement of space and exchange of “property.”
That this sense is another deception hardly matters, for it convinces those who sell themselves in various forms. As “free-spirited” and “wild” as Oana appears, she’s as much a part of the system she breaks down as is Will. Though he lacks her insight, he does, however unfairly, have fuller mobility. And in this movie’s configurations of space, mobility denotes prerogative.