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A woman's consuming love forces her to bear the clone of her dead beloved. From his infancy to manhood, she faces the unavoidable complexities of her controversial decision.
For more about Womb and the Womb Blu-ray release, see Womb Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on April 11, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Eva Green, Matt Smith, Lesley Manville, Peter Wight
» See full cast & crew
Womb Blu-ray Review
Talk about your circle of life. . .
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 11, 2013
If you've ever wondered what a science fiction film directed by Ingmar Bergman might be like (and who amongst us hasn't?), look no further than 2010's Womb, a surprisingly staid offering from agent provocateur Benedek Fliegauf, a writer-director who has pretty much single handedly made a lot of film fans suddenly aware of the burgeoning Hungarian film industry. Womb has a lot of Bergmanesque elements, including long, lingering shots of a barren and positively Scandinavian landscape (despite the fact that it was filmed in Germany), frolicking children who could have come right out of Fanny and Alexander and a frankly mentally unstable woman who could have come right out of Persona or Through a Glass Darkly. Fliegauf weaves a rather hypnotic spell in Womb, presenting a seemingly multi-generational tale that in the best science fiction fashion turns back on itself with pretzel logic like an especially ravenous ouroboros, putting the first scenes of the film in an entirely new light. This is a film that doesn't wear its science fiction conventions on its veritable sleeve, instead cloaking them in a bizarre love story that has some fairly unsettling aspects if one stops long enough to really think about it.
In a strange sort of way Womb is similar to "Her Pilgrim Soul", one of the most fondly remembered episodes of the 1980s reboot of The Twilight Zone. In both offerings we're presented with a main character who becomes obsessed with something of a chimera—in the television piece, it's a scientist enamored of a hologram, while in Womb it's the probably unhealthy attraction Rebecca (played as a little girl by Ruby O. Fee and as an adult by Eva Green) develops for neighbor boy Thomas (Tristan Christopher as a child and Matt Smith as an adult). In both of these properties, the object of the obsession turns out to have a hidden relationship to the obsessive character, though in the case of "Her Pilgrim Soul" this relationship is initially hidden from the obsessive character while in Womb the secret is kept from the object of obsession by the obsessive character. When we first meet the two main characters in Womb as children, they have an instant like —maybe more—for each other, something that is soon thwarted when Rebecca's family moves away. Rebecca returns to the oceanside locale later as an adult and soon tracks down Tommy. Romance seems inevitable until the unthinkable happens and Matt is killed in a car accident. That's when Womb gets really weird.
Rebecca doesn't let mere death stand in the way of her future happiness and instead decides to have Thomas cloned, a technology which is fully functional as a commercial enterprise in Womb's quasi-futuristic world (the fact that Fliegauf gives us few other indications of the timeframe is one of the reasons the science fiction elements in the film are almost subliminal at times). That sets up the rather bizarre second act of the film where Rebecca is artificially impregnated with Tommy's clone and ultimately gives birth to him, raising the boy as her own (young clone Tommy is once again played by Tristan Christopher). Fliegauf neither flinches from nor actually highlights the implied incestuous subtext of this relationship, at least at the beginning, slowly but surely developing an increasingly isolated "mother-son" relationship due to Womb's world full of people who openly discriminate against clones, referred to derisively as "copies".
It becomes increasingly obvious as Womb moves along that Rebecca's obsession isn't just unhealthy, it's in fact destructive, though perhaps well intentioned in its own decidedly bizarre fashion. The weirdness reaches a tipping point when the now grown Tommy (once again Matt Smith) arrives back home with a girlfriend, at which point the Freudian (and indeed Bergmanesque) tendencies of the film go into overdrive. Has Rebecca created Tommy to be her own personal plaything? It's something that's hinted at in the film when Rebecca gives the young clone Tommy an animatronic baby dinosaur as a pet, a sort of cross between a living thing and a toy. One of the film's more disturbing images deals with Tommy's unsettling rejection of this "companion" after an emotional showdown with his putative mother. And in Womb's formulation, there's the unexpected issue of dealing with a "plaything" that wants to play with you.
Womb is rather strangely both helped and hobbled by its perhaps unusual casting. Rebecca is an obviously wounded character, one who channels her grief into ostensibly "creating" new life, but who then corrals that life into a sort of self created prison of sorts. Green is perhaps not quite shaded enough in her portrayal, offering a sort of one note performance that admittedly captures the obsessive compulsive streak in Rebecca's soul but which fails to convey much else. This filmic monotone is exacerbated by Fliegauf's rather strange decision to keep Rebecca "ageless" even as the cloned Tommy grows older. Is there some sort of hidden meaning in this, or is just a cheat?
The character of Tommy is more varied, and Matt Smith as the adult Tommy (both original and clone) also seems like perhaps an unusual choice. One can't help but wonder if Smith's fame as the current Doctor Who may have had something to do with his casting, but the fact is Womb was filmed and released very early in Smith's tenure in the vaunted role. Smith's best work here is late in the film, when Tommy's incipient rage, anger that has been slowly fomenting over the course of his cloned life, suddenly erupts in a truly disturbing display of aggression and retribution.
There's a brief prologue in this film that plays out in between the credits sequence that takes on a decidedly unnerving meaning once the film reaches its climax (no pun intended—you'll understand if you see the film). The positively Oedipal relationship between Rebecca and Tommy finally reaches its only "natural" conclusion, something which is of course completely unnatural. It's the Immaculate Conception reimagined as Performance Art.
Womb Blu-ray, Video Quality
Womb is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. Probably due to its more recent vintage, this is one of the crispest looking Blu-rays we've yet seen from Olive, though viewers coming to the film will need to keep in mind that Fliegauf and his cinematographer Péter Szátmari have intentionally diffused the lighting in many scenes, as well as aggressively color graded a lot of the material to cool blue tones, both choices of which tend to give the image a preternaturally soft, glowing appearance. Despite those aspects, fine object detail is commendable throughout this presentation and when the film hasn't been color timed unusually, the palette is warm and appealing with very natural looking hues. The film rests rather comfortably on a BD-50 and so compression artifacts are of no major concern.
Womb Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Womb features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that is surprisingly deep and nuanced despite its relative narrowness. The film is literally awash in sound effects due to so much of it being placed next to the ocean. But even the opening moments, full of very subtle effects like hushed breathing, are delivered with a lot of vibrancy. Fidelity is excellent though dynamic range is fairly muted. Special kudos should be given to Max Richter's appealingly haunting score (is that a glockenspiel or kalimba that is used for so many cues?). If you're not familiar with Richter, he's a really interesting British composer who's released a number of fascinating albums. I highly recommend his reimaginings of Vivaldi's Four Seasons which can be found here.
Womb Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This is the first Olive Films Blu-ray that I can recall that features a trailer gallery of Olive releases (including Womb). (I never count trailers for other films as part of the official score for supplements.)
Womb Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Womb is a fascinating film, but I wish Fliegauf would have brought some of the visceral intensity he did to some of his earlier pieces like Forest. Instead, this is a really "interior" film (appropriate, I guess, considering its title), where we're privy to long, lingering glances and a kind of smarmy incestuous subtext. I'm similarly a little conflicted about both Green and Smith. At times I thought they were brilliant, while at other times I had some niggling doubts which may in fact have been tangentially related to the unseemly subject matter. But even with its flaws, Womb shows significant maturation on the part of Fliegauf as a writer and filmmaker and the film certainly is a unique statement. Recommended.
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