Retitled for this UK DVD release and placed in a sleeve which emphasises Matt Smith’s presence, there is a strong likelihood that many will go into Clone with the wrong impression. Anyone expecting a piece of all-out science fiction starring the current Doctor Who will be in for a surprise. Clone is really Womb, the first English-language feature from Hungarian director Benedek Fliegauf, and Smith should be correctly positioned as a supporting actor. His character is key, but his screen time only equates to roughly a third of the picture.
Eva Green occupies the lead role. She plays Rebecca, a young woman who has spent the past twelve years living in Tokyo. Just prior to leaving she had developed a friendship with a young boy by the name of Tommy. He lived in the same seaside town as the grandfather with whom she was staying whilst arrangements for Tokyo were being made. Now she’s back and she’s never forgotten Tommy. A quick reminder on his part and their friendship/relationship is rekindled once more. Except he’s almost immediately killed by a hit-and-run driver.
Clone is set in an undisclosed near-future, one which allows Rebecca to impregnate herself with a clone of Tommy. He becomes her son and, of course, is identical to both the child actor who had played him in the flashback scenes and, eventually, Smith. The new Tommy knows nothing of the old Tommy nor anything of his true origins and nature. Nevertheless, the whole messy subject of incest is integral to the film. There’s a continual frisson to the mother-son scenes, whether as a child or an adult. The latter are complicated further once Tommy number two becomes sexually active and brings a girlfriend into their isolated beach house. Needless to say, jealousies arise.
The most celebrated of Fliegauf’s earlier features was Dealer, an account of the last 24 hours in the life of a drug dealer which firmly eschewed criminal underworld clichés. This wasn’t a Guy Ritchie-esque combination of comic book characters and plenty of dazzle, but a slow-burning affair with an emphasis on the sound design. Clone is similarly unconcerned with genre, using its science fiction elements as a mere jumping off point as a means of investigating his chosen subjects. In this respect his film has a kinship with the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46 or, most pertinently, Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go. The science fiction elements are the enabler, not the main event.
Shot on the north coast of Germany, standing in for a windswept UK, Clone comes with a suitably sparse landscape to accompany its minimalist sound design and just as minimalist dialogue. Initially this emphasis on silence and emptiness is really quite hypnotic, especially during the childhood scenes, though it soon becomes clear that Fliegauf has a sparseness of ideas to accompany his visual and aural equivalent. Whilst he’s happy to build the tensions, he’s also never quite sure what to do them; they’re never genuinely resolved or properly explored, but have a tendency just to sit there. Consequently it gives the actors very little to work with. Green is little more than a cipher, whilst Smith is forced to break out into a couple of unnecessarily ‘big’ moments as a means of relieving the monotony.
Not that it helps. Whilst it’s easy to appreciate Clone’s mood and design, the interest they inspire quickly devolves into disinterest once the narrative refuses to kick in. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised given the straight-to-DVD release and the new title. If a film starring the current Doctor Who can’t be sold into British cinemas, then you can be sure there must be problems.
Arrow are releasing Clone as separate DVD and Blu-ray editions. The former was supplied for review and as such it is this edition which will come under consideration. Even in standard definition it’s hard not to be impressed by the presentation. The image is expectedly pristine and copes ably with Fliegauf’s muted palette and its various shades of grey. The only flaw is some prominent edge enhancement during a couple of scenes which place the characters in silhouette. Otherwise, this is an excellent transfer. The original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, anamorphically enhanced, has been maintained. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is crisp, clean, well-balanced and shows off Fliegauf’s impressive sound design without issue. As for extras here we find a trailer and ‘Inside Clone’, a 22-minute featurette taking us behind the scenes. Fliegauf and his principal cast members are interviewed, though do be warned that Smith isn’t above various ‘luvvie’ clichés and that the sound recording on Fliegauf’s bits is less than perfect. Interestingly, this piece maintains the steady pace of the main feature even though its content rarely rises above that of EPK fluff.