Womb 2010 Germany/Hungary/France
Directed by Benedek Fliegauf
Screened at London Film Festival 20th October 2010
Hungarian director Benedek Fliegauf’s new movie Womb is one of those achingly beautiful, visually empowered movies that I rarely get the opportunity to see at my local cinema... but it screened last week at the London Film Festival and, even though it looks like it might (fingers crossed) get a distributor for the English language market sometime in 2011 (which would be only fair since the movie is shot in English), I really don’t hold much enthusiasm that I’ll get the chance to take another look at it in a cinema again anytime soon and am pinning my hopes on a DVD release of this sometime next year!
Womb has a very simple story so I’ll just run through that one before I venture further on why I think the movie works so well.
A young girl staying with her grandfather on the coast of... somewhere... meets a young boy and the two develop an intense emotional bond which is almost certainly love (the location is very remote because this tale is set slightly in the future and the director presumably would not have the kind of budgets for developing a world that looks any different from our own). Then the girl is suddenly whisked away to live in Tokyo. A period of, maybe, 15 years passes and the girl grows up into French actress Eva Green and returns to the coastal location. She seeks out the boy and he has grown up to be Matt Smith (yeah, that Matt Smith... it’s The Doctor). The two fall in love all over again and just as they are about to get into their relationship again properly, poor old Thomas (Matt Smith) is hit by a car and killed. This being “the future”, Rebecca (Eva Green) grows a clone of him in her womb and raises the boy up from childhood as his mother and best friend until he eventually grows back up into Matt Smith again. Things get problematic when Thomas gets a girlfriend and this is like a stab to the heart for Rebecca, who obviously wants to be with him herself... and presumably not in a motherly way (yeah, there’s a pay off). Things get more complicated when Thomas’ original mother comes to get a glimpse of him and it seems some echo of the original Thomas in him sets him off. He wants to know who she is and good old Rebecca has neglected to tell him he’s a clone all these years (there’s been a lot of stigmata attached to "sending in the clones" and he personally has a dislike of them). He finds out... stuff happens... credits roll.
Now if you’ve been paying attention to the way I just wrote that plot run-down, you’ll notice that I’ve used a lot of phrases and words like “presumably” and “it seems”. There’s a reason for this. This is one of those rare movies, and by rare I mean non-Hollywood, that makes it very easy to bring your own spin to the events on screen as, thankfully, nothing is spelt out or needlessly clarified. A fair amount of the emotion and weight of the characters is performed without dialogue... at least more so than in a standard and more mainstream movie. The performances are all top notch and are very reliant on facial expression, pauses etc... what’s left unsaid is where the drama kinda resonates (I hope that makes sense... kinda like a slowed down version of Pinter’s pauses perhaps where the weight and intent of those words find a home between the dialogue).
It’s been said, and admitted by the director in the Q&A after the screening that it’s a very static film. It makes great use of it’s locations which are often photographed when at their bleakest (he really didn’t want to catch the light here... waiting for the weather in this case meant waiting for the sun to go away) and while these landscapes and locations might seem to exude a quiet stillness I’d have to go on record here and now and say that I disagree with the directors summary a little and say that, far from being a static movie, it’s a film where a lot of stuff is going on. True there is a certain stillness to the shot but I noticed on more than one occasion that what I at first perceived as “still” shot set ups were quite often very slow zooms or dollys which gave an almost subconsciously perceived sense of movement to the shots (think of the first tracking shot of A Clockwork Orange but slowed down really a lot).
And then, as I said, the acting is as much about the physicality as it is about dialogue on this one. Now Eva Green has one of those faces which is almost always perpetually smiling, even when she’s expressing sorrow or, in the case of this movie, a long, slow malaise of darkness in the soul... so you have that kind of inner conflict as a point of interest to what’s on screen anyway... but then you have Matt Smith who is, quite obviously, a hugely physical actor (when he wants to be is my guess/hope). He kinda explodes on the screen and his performance here is very much a similar one to the one he does in Doctor Who, although I understand that this was shot sometime before he started playing The Doctor... it would be interesting to find out just how the style of acting he employed on this film informed his turn as Britain’s favourite timelord because it seemed to me that a lot of the mannerisms and sudden exploding contrasts in intensity of character were identical.
And I’m not knocking him here people... he’s great in this, it’s the best thing I’ve seen him in. And there’s one great piece where he lets the anger build and just explode involving a dinner scene and a salt shaker which is absolutely intense and amazing and has to be seen to be believed. If you saw this scene divorced from the rest of the narrative as a clip on TV you’d think this was a dynamic, fast paced, anger fest!
It’s not. It’s one of those movies blessed with a kind of lumbering pacing which allows you to study the situations as they unfold before you and make up your mind as to what’s going on in the heads of the characters. It doesn’t provide easy answers and even though I completely didn’t understand what the clone/robot/toy dinosaur (or whatever it is) was... I was at least aware of what it was meant to represent and the statement it was making to inform the narrative. I’d much rather that kind of movie than something that crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s in your face for two hours. This movie really gives you Womb to breathe on that side of things.
Womb is definitely worth a watch if it manages to get some kind of cinematic or home video release next year. Do yourself a favour and give it a watch!