Some people are just meant to be together — even after they're dead. That's the premise of writer-director Benedek Fliegauf's Womb, a movie whose slender narrative is little more than that premise, yet whose themes prove bigger than the story.
Love between the living and the undead is all the rage in Hollywood movies, but Womb is no Twilight. Shot in Germany by a Hungarian with an English-speaking cast, the movie is more akin to 2004's Birth.
In that coolly creepy drama, Nicole Kidman plays a woman who comes to believe that a young boy is the reincarnation of her dead soul mate. Womb is a little different: Eva Green plays a woman who's positive that a young boy is the reincarnation of her dead soul mate. She knows it for a fact — because she had her late lover replicated, and then gave birth to his clone.
Rebecca and Tommy first meet when she's 9, and he's about the same age. She comes to visit her grandfather in the wintry, windswept beach town where Tommy and his parents live. The stay is short, but the bond permanent. When Rebecca leaves — off to live with her mother in a 72nd-story apartment in Tokyo — the kids vow to stay connected.
They don't, but after Rebecca (Green) returns 12 years later, she and Tommy (Dr. Who's Matt Smith) quickly become inseparable. Until, that is, he's hit by a speeding van.
Rebecca sets up a nursery, and is soon mothering a little boy named, yes, Tommy. Her late beau's mom (Lesley Manville) objects. But his dad (Peter Wight) cooperates, before both leave town in grief.
The ease of human cloning is perhaps the only clue that Womb is set in tomorrow land. (Also, there are no buildings as high as 72 stories in Tokyo, but that's probably just a mistake rather than a futuristic detail.)
Sent into hiding by prejudice against clones — a plotline that is quickly abandoned — Rebecca and Tommy relocate to a remote seaside shack. Mother and son remain close after he reaches young adulthood. Even when Tommy's new girlfriend (Hannah Murray) moves in, the sexual tension increases only slightly. Ultimately, it's the arrival of an older woman that threatens Rebecca and Tommy's womblike existence.
An incestuous payoff might be expected, given the casting of Green; she first attracted widespread attention in Bertolucci's The Dreamers, as a young woman who is unusually close to her brother. But whatever happens, Womb is more melancholy than erotic.
Featuring a small cast and only a few locations, Womb was clearly shaped by its low budget. Fliegauf works skillfully within the constraints, however, and cinematographer Pete Szatmari provides evocative images of nature's power and mutability on a northern seashore. The film's location mirrors Rebecca and Tommy's relationship: beautiful and strange, isolated yet fulfilling.
The eeriness is underscored by the subtly intricate sound design, and by Green's subtle performance. She deftly balances her desire for the lost Tommy with the maternal responsibility to shield her son.
Rebecca gives Tommy a new life, yet Fliegauf focuses as much on decay as on regeneration. The kids' childhood talismans include a rotting pear and a dead snail, and Rebecca's intense passion can't keep her lover/son from growing up. Womb, in the end, is less about losing a man than about letting go of a child.