London Film Festival – It's a case of clone alone, as Eva Green resurrects dead lover Matt Smith by giving birth to his genetic double. Paul Martin senses awkward moments ahead at family gatherings.
An air of the dreamstate, of a close-knit blend of the visceral and the unreal, hangs over Womb, the entrancing English-language debut from Hungarian filmmaker, Benedek Fliegauf. Although the dramatic action was primarily shot in a distinctively specific locale – the north German coast, a place of icy sunshine, where a faint grey cloak hangs over the porous expanses of sky, sea and sand – Fliegauf neglects to equip his movie with much in the way of social, historical and geographical certainties. He populates his German locations with British performers and serves up a story which hinges on a science fiction concept, though none of the clichéd trappings of the futuristic saga are present. The result is a film that seems to exist in an 'anywhere', a constructed bubble in which only the key themes of the piece are afforded any serious degree of consideration.
Those key themes are loss and identity, providing moral and philosophical conundrums respectively. The central figure in this darkly comic drama is Rebecca, who when we first glimpse her is a young girl (played by Ruby O. Fee) living with her grandfather in an unnamed, rugged coastal region. Her best friend and playmate is her neighbour, Tommy (Tristan Christopher), but these co-conspirators in youthful mischief are cruelly separated when Rebecca is sent to live with her mother in Japan.
Years pass and Rebecca returns, now in the alluring form of erstwhile Bond girl, Eva Green. She seeks out Tommy/Thomas (portrayed as an adult by current TARDIS incumbent, Matt Smith) and their bond is instantly renewed. However just as they seem poised to settle into the idyll of young love, activist Thomas is accidentally killed en-route to an attack on a nearby laboratory.
It is this targeted laboratory which offers a thread of hope to Rebecca, devastated at the loss of her soul mate so soon after they had been reunited, and also asks for the one major leap of the imagination by the viewer. For the lab is a cloning facility, capable of bringing back those who have died, and sure enough, with clandestine assistance from Tommy's dad (Peter Wight), and against the wishes of his mother (Lesley Manville), Rebecca is soon pregnant with a baby created through the use of her dead boyfriend's DNA.
While the story of Womb covers a large passage of time, running from Rebecca and Tommy's childhood to the point when the former is encroaching on middle-age and her 'son' is as old as he was when his progenitor died, it moves slowly in terms of the pacing of individual scenes. It is a quiet movie too, with only sparing employment being found for the skills of score composer, Max Richter. Consequently it is surely to the benefit of Fliegauf's film, at least in terms of attracting a wider audience, that it so well served for actors of the kind who crop up in those inane newspaper articles with titles like 'Young! Hot! And British!'.
Perhaps the surprise performance here comes from Green, who I last saw acting uber-obnoxious as an over-indulged drama queen in another low-budget, fantasy-tinged offering, Franklyn. She is much better this time out, as she both effectively conveys the tumult of emotions inside Rebecca and also elucidates the mutable nature of the love she feels for a child who is the mirror image of her deceased lover. Matt Smith's is more of a supporting role, with the pick of the multiple Tommy's actually proving to be the young Tristan Christopher, while further support comes from Skins and Chatroom actress Hannah Murray, as the lover who comes between Rebecca and Thomas Mark II. Meanwhile, older hands Wight and Manville are characteristically assured as the boy's parents.
Womb certainly looks wonderful (after the LFF screening I attended, producer Roman Paul revealed that, in spite of the often downbeat tone and potentially controversial subject matter, the German tourist board were planning to use the film for their own promotional purposes), with Fliegauf delivering such strong images as the isolated house on struts, marooned on the beach, reflecting Rebecca's decision to shield Tommy from the prejudices of others (a societal distaste for cloning is touched upon, via a judgemental, gossipy mother's circle she briefly affiliates with).
But it is the deeper concerns beating under that alluring veneer which provide Fliegauf's film with its power. The idea of a clone confronting their own origins and asking to what extent they truly are an individual was a feature of last year's acclaimed Moon, and comparable ground is covered here, albeit within a very different set-up. However a blackly comedic element of incest is added, with Rebecca's love for her 'son' on occasion veering closer to amatory than maternal. And while the questions posed have no simple answers, being as shaded in grey as the world which Rebecca and Tommy inhabit, they provide the solid foundations for a strong dramatic scenario.
Rating on a scale of 5 clone stars: 4
Release Date: TBC
Directed by: Benedek Fliegauf
Written by: Benedek Fliegauf
Cast: Eva Green, Matt Smith, Lesley Manville, Hannah Murray
Running Time: 107 minutes