(Womb premiered at the 2010 Locarno International Film Festival. It’s being released theatrically by Olive Films on March 30, 2012.)
Womb is painted in broad strokes, and as such it’s best seen from a few steps back. Colored by the washed-out greys of the rainy beach on which it’s set, Benedek Fliegauf’s semi-sci-fi yarn makes us wonder exactly where and when it takes place before introducing us to its central conceit: a young man has died, and his girlfriend wants to clone him. It then quickly draws a line in the sand between her and the man’s parents, who solemnly accept his death and consider cloning an unnatural perversion—this, we’ll soon find, is the position of nearly everybody present. Before we discover much else about these people we learn that the wind is sometimes louder than the waves here and that the beach house where much of the (non-)action takes place “must seem like a different planet” to a snail gliding across one of its bookshelves. Fliegauf clearly favors mood to plot, and as a result we’re made to float through the proceedings as observers of a story that, far from answering any questions, often seems hesitant to reveal the very questions it’s asking.
In the lead role, Eva Green gives voice to (or, more often, doesn’t give voice to) the soft-spoken detachment that is Womb‘s bread and butter. What continues to be fascinating about Green as an actress isn’t just the roles she chooses—Cracks, Perfect Sense, and this are hardly where one would expect to find a Bond girl a few years down the line—but how subdued her actual performances are. She emotes more than she says, in this case making it clear early on that the first questions we would usually think to ask (how the cloning process works, whether her character has anyone else in her life) are beside the point. Far more salient are the ways in which this decision utterly shapes her life from here on out, not least because she has to raise her boyfriend’s clone from infancy and treat him like her child. The film matches Green’s faraway moodiness with the attractively monochrome environs she finds herself in.
The film is similar in tone, premise, and color palette to Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go, but where that film was too quick to tell us exactly what was on its mind via overly direct narration, Womb prefers to withhold as much as possible. The most noticeable embodiment of this tendency is how few words it uses: when Green takes up residence in her grandfather’s house well over a decade after we first see her there, it’s implied but never said aloud that the man has died; ditto a number of other relationships and plot developments. Characters and subplots fade in and out like the quiet waves, and Fliegauf makes it plain that several of the most important developments are the result of mundane happenings without overstating it. He knows that we know life is random just as often as it’s sad and seemingly meaningless. This is science fiction more in conception than in practice; its strangeness is a natural outgrowth of the everyday. By not insisting on these elements, Fliegauf enhances them, makes them part of the film’s very fabric.
Not everything works so well, however. It’s believable enough that Green’s looks won’t have faded some twenty years from now, but her seeming agelessness as everyone else grows up around her is sometimes out of step with an already confusing chronology. Likewise, events that seem primed to drastically change the course of events only alter them slightly. Too much that happens carries too little weight, but it would be wrong to say that Womb drags as a result—if anything, the pacing amplifies our anticipation of what’s coming next. The (very) slow burn of this plotting has its own rhythm to it, the sort that invites more wonder than frustration, and so we’re left in a constant state of pleasant bemusement. It’s something of a one-track experience, but the manner in which it frequently, intentionally threatens to derail itself along the way makes its non-arrival somehow fitting.
— Michael Nordine