Monday, 30 April 2012

Comes back around: "Clone"

Here's how the movie marketplace now works. Hungarian director Benedek Fliegauf's second feature, a wispy, gynocentric SF offering, has been sitting on the shelf for a couple of years under the title Womb, and only now emerges repackaged - with top-billed Eva Green secondary on the artwork to the face of current Dr. Who Matt Smith - under the apparently less offputting, literally generic title of Clone. With its oceanic vistas and emphasis on motherhood, the film itself is unalterably cyclical, returning to the same or similar images time and again, on each occasion seeking to refresh them with new narrative information - though whether or not Fliegauf is entirely successful in this is very much open to question.

After a portentous, pause-heavy sketch of a pair of childhood sweethearts living in a damp coastal town situated who-knows-where, we flash ahead in time: moving into her late grandfather's house in the dunes after a stay with her mother in Tokyo, Rebecca (Green) takes up once more with Tommy (Smith), the boy she used to canoodle with. She's now a woman of the world, and Green, one of the few young actresses around capable of suggesting smarts and feelings as well as movie-selling beauty, plays her as such; he, on the other hand, is a shambling oddball in terrible knitwear who's spent the years keeping snails in matchboxes and cockroaches in drawers, thus immediately testing the credibility of any film that suggests not one but two women might be attracted to him.

What follows is a faintly trashy, B-movie plot - echoes of Frankenstein, yes, but I was also reminded of the nifty DTV item Retroactive, starring (yes!) James Belushi and Frank Whaley, and the more recent Spanish thriller Timecrimes - played out to ponderous silence as a glumly tragic Europudding that involves Tommy's dying, lingering shots of the swelling Green belly, and the presence of a cloning facility just round the corner, as though it were a branch of the Spar. (At least Retroactive and Timecrimes made their mad scientists recluses.) Fliegauf is trying to say something about the right of women to do whatsoever they like with their bodies (and the problems they might face doing so in the future), which makes me wonder if Clone wouldn't have been better off preserving its original title - so as to be remarketed in the pages of Grazia magazine as an unusual chick-flick/sci-fi hybrid, rather than risk the yawns of fanboys who just want to see Dr. Who running round.

Still, with all its Meaningful Pauses, the debate never really gets going, incest remains a tough sell under any title, and for all the aptitude for atmosphere and location work Fliegauf demonstrates here - extending to one inexplicably creepy sequence involving a battery-operated toy dinosaur - the actors are a second thought, left to their own devices for long stretches. Peter Wight and Lesley Manville are comprehensively wasted as Tommy's parents, there to represent the limited aspirations Mike Leigh usually casts them for; Smith is beset by having to act first weird, then adolescent, getting unintentional laughs from one dining-table strop involving a salt shaker; Green - a great screen presence, still searching for the roles worthy of it - is visibly trying to gain some emotional traction on what remains a thin and ultimately elusive slip of a story. Between Perfect Sense and this (a recurring motif: Eva in bathtubs), she might want to steer clear of quasi-experimental, Brit-funded sci-fi for a while.

Clone opens in selected cinemas from Friday, and will be available on DVD next Monday.  

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