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rochefort [Film Festival 10.04.10] movie review scifi

Never Let Me Go - 7/10

Transfer - 9/10

Two sci-fi films at this year's Fantastic Fest tread extremely similar waters, so much so that I figured it makes sense to do a kind of comparative review: Both Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go" and Damir Lukacevic's "Transfer" deal with an aspect of sci-fi we're seeing more and more often in cinema, namely the effect that a brave new world of cloning or body transplantation has on the donors. Both films offer further evidence that the modern sci-fi movie may very well be on the verge of narrowing the gap with its literary forebears in terms of emotional resonance and thematic complexity.

Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley make "Never Let Me Go" something of a higher-profile curiosity than if director Romanek had gone with lesser-known stars or character actors, and to a certain extent the casting choices actually handicap the film's overall effect. There are no overtly futuristic elements present here, and it would even be difficult to nail down the decade in which the story is set were it not for a couple of scenes in a modern operating theatre. The focus is on an almost Merchant Ivory-style coming of age tale, with one major difference. A minor spoiler is about to happen, but if you know much at all about the movie then you've probably already heard it, and it's revealed early in the first act anyway: the characters are clones, each bred to be future organ donors for their original genetic source and any other compatible candidates. The three leads are all plenty capable, and each delivers a fine performance (Knightley, in particular, does good work playing against her usual type), but their presence promises something a little less inevitable that what we end up with. Romanek is far less concerned with any twists and turns than he is with simply showing life from the vantage point of what are basically human cattle. These are almost-humans who live in a society that is too polite to shun them outright, but too dependent on their healthy replacement organs to confront the possibility that each might have something resembling a soul, and their story is tragic from beginning to end.

"Transfer", a German film that's a bit more under the radar, manages a slightly more illuminating spin on the old body-swapping theme, but still plays in the same basic backyard as "Never" or last year's excellent "Moon". In this case a rich, elderly couple, Hermann (Hans-Michael Rehberg) and Anna (Ingrid Andree), decides to participate in the Menzana Institute's groundbreaking consciousness-swapping technology, one which allows them to spend twenty hours a day in the bodies of young, voluntary donors Apolain (B. J. Britt) and Sarah (Regine Nehy). The donors have supposedly been handsomely compensated for allowing the wealthy but dying white aristocrats to enjoy their healthy (and black) bodies, but Apolain immediately regrets the decision, and in the four hours that he and Sarah are allowed to re-inhabit their bodies each day, he gradually tries to persuade her into making a run for it. Director Lukacevic smartly exploits almost every facet of the procedure, from the reactions of the exclusively white community, to the jealousy that results when two people use the same body, to the bizarre but often touching friendship that grows among the four. Sarah and Anna communicate to each other via diary entries, but always read them with Sarah's eyes. Apolain gets Sarah pregnant in one of their four-hour re-inhabitation sessions, and later Hermann, while in Apolain's body, grows angry that the baby kinda is, but kinda isn't technically his. This is the kind of idea-drenched science-fiction that makes believers of those who are typically (and justifiably) skeptical that such cinema can actually move past laser beams and killer robots. And as much as I love me some terminators and road warriors, there's no denying that a story like "Transfer" goes places that neither a contemporary real-world drama nor a comic book movie could ever go.

The price that both films pay for their ambitions, however, is one that could have just as much of an impact on future forays into heady sci-fi as the quality heights they achieve. Neither "Never Let Me Go" nor "Transfer" promise much in terms of subsequent viewings, since both are so clearly drawn and deliberately executed that, while the ideas they plant are plenty fertile, neither is really exciting enough to re-watch. They are, in fact, so well-communicated and logically plotted that one can easily reconstruct the plots from memory. But not every top-notch sci-fi pic can balance spectacle and subtext in the same way as exceptional classics like "2001" or "Blade Runner" or more recent upstarts like "Moon" or "District 9", and it's gratifying to see that filmmakers and audiences may finally be ready to allow this sort of cinema to once and for all cast off its training wheels and never look back.

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Hal (12 years ago) Reply

Transfer sounds well interesting.


Piimentynha (11 years ago) Reply

you guys like this movie?!!!! well first of all the whole freaking movie looks tacsgecly the same as the orignal. now jayden smith im sorry pepole only like him becuz hese the son of jayden smith.he really was another whiney kid hese not really an interasting character really. the bullies im like wft!!! there really just act the same as the bullies from the other film. jackie chan was the only good part

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