The Hungarian/German/French co-production of Womb was one of the few can’t-miss picks for which I actually got a ticket in the draw this year, so needless to say it was the only screening I’ve been to so far in which none of the stars, in this case the only reason I wanted to see it in the first place, made it to Toronto for the premiere. I gather they’ve already done their festival duties, as Womb has played various European festivals already. The print was even fairly scratched up all the way through the opening credits; it’s rare to see anything less than pristine pass through a projector at TIFF, this film had obviously seen its share of projection booths already. Oh right, the stars: Eva Green and Matt Smith. Which for a dual James Bond/Doctor Who geek was the cast of the festival. Not sure how many other Vesper Lynd aficionados were in the audience but there were definitely a few fans of the Doctor: I was right behind a woman in line who proclaimed “If they announce that Matt isn’t here, and you hear a ‘Son of a BITCH!’, that’s me.” and also saw a guy unfurl a twenty-foot (or as near as) knit scarf in line, only seven actors behind the curve.
So no stars to ogle, but that’s not what the festival’s about, right? (Right?) Which is okay in this case, because Womb is actually pretty damn good. I realize that I haven’t been summarizing movies in these blog posts because I figure anyone interested will read the blurbs on tiff.net, but this one’s easy: a woman gives birth to the clone of her dead lover. I suppose the Hollywood studio pitch might be along the lines of “Spanking The Monkey as envisioned by Philip K. Dick,” and then you’d feel the kiss of concrete on your cheek as security flung you out the front gates onto Melrose. It’s not an easy movie to warm up to: it’s practically silent, I doubt there’s more than ten script pages of actual dialogue, though the resulting film doesn’t fall into the “Look at my potato” school of filmmaking trap that so much eastern European cinema succumbs to. Despite the subject matter, there’s remarkably little ick factor...I mean, think about it...there really isn’t any incest happening, and it’s shot so clinically as to make Dead Ringers seem positively loud and goopy by comparison. As for the two leads, even ostensibly aged to her late forties (the makeup effects in this movie give new meaning to the word “minimalist”) Eva Green on the big screen still has a smile that’s like standing a bit too close to the sun and remains one of the most captivating actresses working today. Once you get take in the fact that her character is most likely completely insane from about the half hour point onwards, it's a brave performance. This is the first non-Doctor thing I’ve seen Matt Smith in, and though the guy may not have a lot of arrows in his acting quiver that I can see—“gangly babbling genius” and a degree or two to each side of that seems to be his range—but it does suit the character here and he’s a surprisingly engaging big-screen presence. So if heady, realistic science fiction is your thing (if you liked Primer, you’d probably dig this), you could certainly do tons worse. (***1/2)