Dir. Benedek Fliegauf, Germany/Hungary/France, 2010 , 107 mins
Review by Carol Allen
Although a European co-production with a Hungarian director and shot largely in Germany, this is an English language film and one which sounds very promising. For a start it’s the feature film lead debut of Dr Who star Matt Smith (he had a tiny part in In Bruges but you might well have missed him) and its story line about human cloning is a theme that has already proved of interest to film makers, both in the action based The Island and the more reflective Never Let Me Go.
Writer/director Fliegauf has an interesting and potentially dramatic new take on the theme. Rebecca and Tommy (Ruby O’Fee and Tristan Christopher) meet as children and form a strong bond. But their friendship is short lived, when Rebecca is taken off by her mother to live in Japan. They meet again years later as adults (now played by Green and Smith) and fall passionately in love, but their relationship is cut short when Tommy is killed in a road accident. Unable to live without him, Rebecca gets herself impregnated with Tommy’s clone. But as he grows to manhood, the consequences of her action inevitably make for a complicated mother son relationship.
So a good story idea but Filegauf in his writing and direction appears to have decided to defy all the conventions of dramatic story telling and character engagement in favour of a self consciously remote “artistic” style. Right indeed from his treatment of the opening credits, which feature an interminable list of producers followed by a period of blank screen so long that you begin to wonder if the projector has broken down.
The story moves at a snail’s pace and the performances have been shot and edited in such a way as to remove virtually all vitality from them. There is also little sense of context in terms of the society in which these characters live. We are told for example that “copies” are regarded as second class citizens, evidenced when nobody turns up to young cloned Tommy’s (also played by Christopher) birthday party. But that idea disappears when adult Tommy appears to experience no difficulty in getting a girlfriend (Murray) – a conflicting situation for Rebecca, whose emotions Green struggles to communicate despite the style of the film, which favours interminable and admittedly beautifully composed shots of the remote coastline, where the action takes place, over character engagement. Even the supposedly tragic death of Tommy number one is shot in such a remote and undramatic way that we’re not even sure at first what has happened.
There are times when the actors manage to break through the wall of “artistry” standing between them and the audience. Smith has some effective moments, particularly towards the end of the film, when he discovers the truth of his situation and Leslie Manville as his “real” mother is mutely moving in a scene where she is confronted by the clone of her son, who has no idea who she is. And Murray makes an impression as Tommy’s girlfriend Monica. But overall the actors appear to be trapped in a straight jacket of stilted scenes and dialogue from which they are struggling to get their characters across. The cinematography by Peter Szatmari is admittedly very beautiful but largely fails to serve the drama and the film overall is painfully static, artificial and largely lifeless.
Film opens in cinemas on 4th May and is released on DVD and Blu-ray from 7th May 2012