Director: Benedek Fliegauf
Writers: Benedek Fliegauf
Starring: Eva Green, Matt Smith, Lesley Manville, Peter Wight
One of the most beautiful films I have ever seen in a wonderfully, depressingly engaging way. You’ll understand the oxymoron in that sentence upon viewing this great little film.
The cinematography is the stand out aspect of Benedek Fliegauf’s film. The director’s style of lingering shots added to a sense of uncomfortable prickliness in the scenes but also allowed the viewer to take a mental snapshot of the chosen visual whilst feeling the emotion of the scene. To be honest, it does feel like a series of beautiful stills, cut together with actors who happen to present at times. When in an uncomfortable situation most will want to change the subject, escape if you will, but the director forces you to stay in the moment; he forces you to connect in a place you would perhaps not. It’s wonderfully off-putting.
The locations chosen for this film are wonderful in there remoteness; they are non-specific, rural seaside spots which make you think of the little visited former holiday hotspots of the UK but somehow more cold and impressive; as if they are slightly removed from the reality you know. They were actually filmed in Germany but you would swear you were admiring the coasts of Scotland. This works well with the premise of a society we almost recognise but not quite. Recent scientific advances have given us tremendous potential in the use of stem cells; to Dolly the sheep and a multitude of other cloned animals. In this world of the near future, where arguably the highest of all mammals can be cloned, there is a need for the department for genetic replication. This is a science fiction film but so loosely fits this genre that you can almost believe you are watching a drama documentary.
The absence of glitz and glamour and the use of these rural, rustic locations give the viewer the sense they are watching a film based in the past before our technical revolution. Amongst books, old fashioned bathtubs and ageing wood, the few uses of a mobile phone appear striking; the introduction of the department for genetic replication almost shocks you into remembering that this film is based in the near future.
The eccentricities of the characters could be described as strange, unusual…even unlikely but if you remove a person from a standard family environment with traditional relationships you will end up with characters that are more than a little rough around the edges. I enjoyed the interplay between Eva Green and Matt Smith; it was a relationship I found myself clearly engaged in.
In truth though, Eva Green’s acting performance mirrors the film, stunningly beautiful but hard to like. She is in a horribly emotional position which leaves you uncomfortable but engaged in every scene. Matt Smith, inescapably linked to his role as Doctor Who leaves a lot of his familiar eccentric character aside but does bring a child-like imagination to his portrayal of Tommy. Keep an eye out for a couple of the more minor characters from the Game of Thrones epic. Hannah Murray perhaps the best of the supporting role performances.
The production obviously ran out of money when it came to casting the minor roles in the film; they may have just flagged down a bus and let the random passengers walk around the film sets reading lines picked from a hat. But they are there to demonstrate that this is a world which has become well integrated along racial lines. There is however, prejudice towards ‘copies’, a subject of such taboo that those who opt to be open about their genetic status are treat with suspicion, ridicule…as pariahs. It reminded me of Blade Runner or perhaps District 9 in this regard. Personally I am a fan of films with a better defined narrative. Womb does not fit into this category; It introduces you to characters, throws in a story arc or two and then lets you see how the characters cope. The story is minimal, almost to the extreme but each scene and its issues linger in the mind. ‘How would I cope in this situation?’ is the common question you ask yourself whilst watching Womb.
Despite the disappointing minor roles and very limited supporting performances this is a film about the two protagonists and the almost tangible presence of tension which is a constant in most scenes. Childhood friends separated by forces beyond their control are reunited as adults having lost none of their chemistry. There is very little dialogue but a lot of communication: glances, smiles and lingering touches say more than the script. This film could have done with a shorter running time, even with each scene going (to great effect) uncomfortably long. You can definitely tell that this is a labour of love for Benedek Fliegauf and perhaps a more critical eye could have shaved some of extraneous edges off of it.
It is by no means perfect but like all good films it succeeds in not only moving your emotional centre but in introducing thought provoking concepts and then leaving you to form your own opinions.
(10/10 for visuals)
Review by Steve Wolstencroft