Friday, April 6, 2012

Womb Notes

When you make a movie about a personality-less woman whose entire life is driven by her memories of a guy she barely knows and whose only hope for fulfillment (emphasis on the fill) is a sense of physical or at least emotional intimacy with said guy, and you fill that movie with lots of empty spaces (deserted beaches, isolated cottages, vast bare swaths of 'scope, protracted shots of non-action), and then you call the whole thing Womb—well, what you end up with is high-minded misogynist claptrap.

At least Benedek Fliegauf can't be accused of being duplicitous or inconsistent. Everything in Womb, Fliegauf's first English-language film, evokes, mirrors, reiterates the idea of desolation—though the movie isn't ascetic by any means. In fact, Womb revels in barrenness: the bare-bones plot, the almost exclusively static camera, the negative space-heavy compositions, the soundtrack (a steady drone of seaside wind wooshes occasionally prettied up with a plinky Max Richter score), the larghissimo pace, the vague setting and even vaguer time-frame (though Womb is presumably set over several decades, Eva Green never ages), the pared-down characters (each is given one emotion and, at most, one identifying characteristic)—it goes on and on. Womb is what you'd call accomplished; how receptive you are to what it accomplishes depends on how receptive you are to its central image—the womb as a barren place—and to the idea that women are empty vessels waiting to be filled with a masculine presence—two notions that are, admittedly, older than art itself.

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In Womb, Eva Green plays a sort of lobotomized blank slate who travels to her late grandfather's seaside cottage looking for a childhood crush named Tommy. He still lives in town, and they enjoy a brief romance before he gets killed in a freak car accident. Having lost the one thing—the idea of being with Tommy—that brightened up an existence that seems to otherwise consist entirely of despondent staring, Green literally puts the memory of Tommy into her hollow center—her womb—by getting impregnated with the dead man's clone (Womb is set in a sketchy future where human cloning is common but frowned upon) and raising the clone as her child. Once the clone Tommy grows into an adult that looks and talks exactly like the original, Green develops an intense incestuous longing for her "son."

Both iterations of Tommy are played by Matt Smith, an affable, eccentric actor best known for playing the lead in the BBC's long-running / self-contradicting narrative hodge-podge Doctor Who. Smith's screen persona—he sways while idle, slowly forms half-smiles before speaking, stares off mid-conversation, and over-expresses with his eyes, eyebrows, and forehead even while underplaying a line—suggest a cross between an overgrown five-year-old and a slightly sedated Crispin Glover. Like Glover (to whom he bears a passing resemblance), Smith works chiefly in terms of mannerisms; his twitchy likeability makes him the liveliest character in the film—and that's more or less the point. He's the presence Green needs to fill the absence that's central to her character (and, Fliegauf implies, her gender; all of the other female characters in the film are defined by their relationships with men—men who are, more often than not, some version of Tommy or another).

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