(15) 92 min
Michael Winterbottom tackling science fiction might seem as likely as Michael Bay making In This World but from the outset Britain’s most nomadic filmmaker alights on the future like a natural: present-day Dubai and Sam Morton prove more than a match for multi-million dollar CGI and any random Hollywood A-lister.
That said, Tim Robbins is along for the ride, in a cerebral futuristic romance that seems to reimagine Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind games by way of Godard’s Alphaville. Set in an unspecified near-future, Robbins’ US detective Geld arrives in overcrowded Shanghai to investigate “papelle” (visa) fraud at an insurance agency but promptly falls for his chief suspect, Morton’s Maria. Their tentative relationship sets underway a complex mystery involving memory erasure and the titular genetic taboo.
A sun-bleached noir, Winterbottom and regular screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce delight in shuffling a miasmic melting-pot of languages and geography - Shanghai, Rajasthan and Dubai all merge and extrapolating hot-button issues like cloning into a persuasive, semi-Orwellian dystopia (with a deft twist on the Oedipal myth). Intellectually solid, the film rarely convinces emotionally; for all the biology discussed, the lack of chemistry between Morton and an awkward Robbins dominates. And Winterbottom’s magpie-like tropes Morvern Callar’s Lynne Ramsay and demonlover’s Olivier Assayas might both feel slightly aggrieved seem more pronounced.
Nevertheless it’s always challenging, engrossing and visually striking, Winterbottom’s consistent refusal to do the obvious thing still marking him as our brightest future hope. Long may his eventful sunshine of the restless mind continue.
* * * (three stars)
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