Womb

Tagged: Film

Film (2010; vt Clone). Razor Film presents in association with Arte France Cinéma and ZDF in cooperation with Arte, ASAP Films, Boje Buck Production and Inforg Studio a film supported by the Motion Picture Public Foundation of Hungary, Deutscher Filmförderfonds, Filmförderungsanstalt, Eurimages, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein and Media i2i Audiovisual, with development supported by the Media Programme of the European Community, ScripTeast and Cinefondation l'Atelier du Festival. Written and directed by Benedek Fliegauf. Cast includes Tristan Christopher, Ruby O Fee, Eva Green, Amanda Lawrence, István Lénárt, Lesley Manville, Hannah Murray, Ella Smith, Matt Smith, Gina Stiebitz, Natalia Tena and Peter Wight. Colour. 112 minutes.

A woman gives birth to a Clone of her childhood sweetheart, raises the child, and then becomes pregnant by him.

"Just because you went away it doesn't mean you're not here anymore," says pregnant protagonist Rebecca (Green) during the prologue of Womb, a film written and directed by Hungarian filmmaker Benedek Fliegauf, whose first feature film Rengeteg ("Forest"; 2002) depicted the lives of young Hungarians living in Budapest in the episodic style of the Budapest School of Cinema of the 1970s, and which was awarded the Wolfgang Staudte Prize at the Berlin Film Festival of 2003, and whose next, Dealer (2004), a minimalist portrayal of the personal circumstances of a suicidal Drug dealer, won prizes at several European film festivals. Fliegauf's early short film Hypnosis (2001) concerns the hurt and ambiguity of the Inner Space generated by an episode of incest between father and daughter, and Womb's desolate and carefully-composed representations of diminished lives lived at the edge of the world seem calculated to combine the Psychology of illicit love with the slow-moving, nihilistic aesthetic of fellow Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr, whose films Sátántangó ("Satan's Tango"; 1994), based on the novel of the same name by László Krasznahorkai, and Werckmeister harmóniák ("Werckmeister Harmonies"; 2000), based on the Krasznahorkai novel Az ellenállás melankóliája (1989; trans George Szirtes as The Melancholy of Resistance 1998), both won international acclaim. Womb is a daring film and one which draws committed performances from its two leads – Green's performance is as intensely-understated as that of Matt Smith, who embodied the eleventh incarnation of Doctor Who, is enthusiastic – but any admiration of the film's deviation from the norm soon gives way to incredulity that it was ever considered suitable for general release.

Youngsters Rebecca (Fee) and Tommy (Christopher) meet as children on a beautiful stretch of deserted beach – the precise setting of Womb is never made clear but much of the film was shot in Germany on the Islands of Langeneß and Sylt and the film is English-language – and then reunite twelve years later to begin a romantic relationship as adults. Tommy (Smith) is by this stage an environmental activist intent on disrupting the plans of an unnamed biotech corporation (see Biology) to open a "wellness centre" peopled by clones of animals created by Genetic Engineering. "I've always dreamt of meeting a cockroach-breeder," says Rebecca (Green) of Tommy's plans to release rucksacks-full quantities of cockroaches into the vicinity of the development as part of a militant bid to preserve local Ecology. But Tommy is killed in a road accident on the way to the event and Rebecca is left grief-stricken. Tommy's mother Judith (Manville) opposes Rebecca's plan to give birth to a genetic Clone of Tommy – "We're atheists ... but that doesn't mean we can rummage in our deceased's graves and clone them; we're not farm animals," – but Tommy's father Ralph (Wight) grants Rebecca legal permission to use Tommy's DNA to give birth to a clone under the auspices of the Department of Genetic Replication (see Medicine). As her son grows older, however, it emerges that some parts of the Sociology of Rebecca's local community are opposed to whatever Politics allow this (unspecified) Near Future society to encourage cloning in its populace. "Copies have a weird smell," says Rebecca's son, also called Tommy, as he grows to same age (and physical appearance) as when Rebecca and his father-progenitor first met: "It comes from their skin." "Look, Rebecca, we don't have any problem with human replication," says one of the local mothers (Ella Smith) of Rebecca's plan to invite Dima (Stiebitz), a local child created by genetic replication, to Tommy's birthday party. "We think some clones are decent people, they have their own lives and rights, but the thing is, it's too complicated for our kids." "Dima is the victim of artificial incest," insists Tommy's teacher (Lawrence): "Her mother gave birth to her own mother." Rebecca realizes she must keep Tommy's provenance a secret, but a former rival for adult-Tommy's affections, Rose (Tena), saw her at the Department of Genetic Replication, word gets out, and Rebecca and child-Tommy celebrate his birthday alone together by candlelight.

The ethical implications of cloning and the effect of the widespread availability of any such Technology on the family-oriented moral compass of many human societies are at this point set aside in favour of a glacially-developed portrayal of the isolation imposed on Rebecca and Tommy 2 by ostracization. Fliegauf and cinematographer Peter Szatmari intersperse plot developments with elegantly-appointed pictures of watery seclusion designed, one imagines, to convey the corrosion of what one loves through the inexorable slippage of Entropy, and there is a strong sense of how a vein of cinematic Fabulation from land-locked Hungary uses maritime imagery to elevate a story to a more fantastical plane, but events in the second half of Womb come too slowly to feel fully dramatized. A girlfriend, Monica (Murray), comes to stay with grown-up Tommy 2, but becomes increasingly concerned by the sexual tension between mother and son and flees when Judith, the mother of the first Tommy, visits, is astonished by the sight of him, and Tommy begins to angrily demand answers about the origins of his Identity. Rebecca gives him a Memory box of the first Tommy's possessions, Tommy 2 initiates Sex with her, and the resulting pregnancy is the point at which the narrative of Womb opens.

The morality of sex between genetically-related human beings against a backdrop of diminishing Ecology formed the basis of Code 46 (2003), while the existential implications of the use of Clones as a medical resource informed the narrative framework of Never Let Me Go (2010) and propelled the action of The Island (2005). The film to which Womb bears most resemblance, however, is Birth (2004) by Jonathan Glazer – the co-writer and director of Under the Skin (2013) – in which Nicole Kidman plays a woman who becomes convinced a ten-year-old boy is the reincarnation of her dead husband.

Womb was retitled Clone in the UK for its DVD release. [MD]

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