2010 | Germany/Hungary/France | Directed by Benedek Fliegauf
Logline: A woman’s consuming love leads her to bear a clone of her dead beloved, raising him to adulthood where she faces unavoidable complexities.
Womb (released in the UK as Clone) is a movie of deep, emotionally charged, poetic moments. It is a narrative that lies in stillness and reflection, relies on nuance and subtlety, but at the core there is heartbreak and desperation. It is a powerful and unsettling tale that disturbs in the disquieting way a dream does as it lingers in your mind during those waking moments.
Rebecca is nine when she firsts meets Thomas who is ten. The time and place is never identified, but it is a coastal environment, and the science of human cloning is something that has been both embraced and shunned. This is a science fiction morality tale; not as explicit warning, but a timely reminder of the complex responsibilities and potentially awkward (to say the least) situations this bio-tech advancement will have on society’s ethics and the future of the human race.
Young Rebecca and Thomas forge an immediate close bond, but it isn’t to last, as Rebecca has to depart for Japan. She is gone for twelve years. When she returns they are adults, Thomas (Matt Smith) is an entomologist who moonlights as a political activist. Rebecca and Thomas resume their childhood sweetheart program, but their romance is shattered. Rebecca decides to walk the controversial avenue and visits the Department of Genetic Replication where she uses Thomas’s DNA (secretly supplied by the father, as the mother is loathe to) in a bid to reclaim what she lost: she is impregnated and subsequently gives birth to a baby boy who grows up looking exactly like young Thomas.
Benedek Fliegauf opts for a less obvious approach to the passing of time; there are no sub-titles saying “five years later” or “many seasons later”, but there doesn’t need to be, the visual narrative is strong and succinct enough. Eva Green should have been visually aged once Thomas reaches seventeen (or thereabouts), but as the movie is a symbolic tale, the emphasis on that level of realism is not important.
Peter Szatmari’s cinematography is stunning, icy blue widescreen vistas of the beach, shot on the Germanic island of Sylt, lots of long shots, tableaux. Fliegauf loves his photographic rule of thirds and uses it extensively, but never ostentatiously. There is a cool vibe, a warm chill to the mood, both visually and tonally. It’s an original screenplay, but it feels like it’s based on a novel; or possibly a play, especially the languid pace, small cast – all of who perform excellently – and only a clutch of locations.
Womb is a deep movie that swims in shallow waters; on the surface is a melancholic romantic fantasy, but underneath is a dark psychological drama; one woman’s mental health unhinged, her self-control slipping through her fingers like eels through a net. Womb is as insular and life affirming as it is tenebrous and primal. There is a dysfunctional carnality that is tugged and pulled as the strands of procreative reasoning fray.