Dynamite premise fails to fully ignite in story of a couple whose desire for a child leads into shaky ethical territory. Result is a never-boring but frequently clunky examination of what could happen if a mother relives her childhood -- literally. Oddity from first-time helmer Aruna Villiers comes with a built-in curiosity factor for fests, TV and vid bins.

A dynamite premise fails to fully ignite in “In Your Image,” the story of a couple whose desire for a child leads into shaky ethical territory. Ambitious French-lingo stab at everyday sci-fi pairs the always refreshing Nastassja Kinski with a semi-sleepwalking Christophe Lambert. Result is a never-boring but frequently clunky examination of what could happen if a mother relives her childhood — literally. Due to cast and cloning theme, oddity from first-time helmer Aruna Villiers comes with a built-in curiosity factor for fests, TV and vid bins.

Plot parallels with recent “Godsend” may be a liability. Bachelor obstetrician Thomas (Lambert) turns down job overtures from “therapeutic cloning” specialist Professor Cardoze (Andrzej Seweryn) until he meets the emotionally wounded Mathilde (Kinski). Their affinity is almost instant, but 34-year-old Mathilde is still haunted by the accidental death of her 5-year-old son and her subsequent break-up with the boy’s father. Signs of premature menopause from stress have left her fragile and flighty.

Time transitions are neatly handled as Mathilde gives birth to a baby girl named Manon. Thomas struggles with whether or not to reveal to his wife that their adorable yet disquieting daughter is a clone. Maybe that explains why she sleepwalks and doesn’t fit in with the other kids.

As Manon grows into a coltish young beauty (Audrey Dewilder, perfectly cast as a Kinski-at-12 look-alike), her powers of intuition become downright creepy. Since, on a cellular level, she is her mom, Manon has to deal with strange recurring feelings about objects from Mathilde’s past as well as the usual burdens of puberty. Things get dicey when the increasingly precocious girl realizes she really loves her dad.

Many scenes achieve a ring of truth — to acceptable movie standards — but there’s a moderate-budget cheesiness about too many parts of the film which prevent it from fully convincing. Score consistently undermines what the story is trying to do.

A newcomer to watch, Dewilder is very good as the vixen-despite-herself, tortured by the unforeseen consequences of breaking natural laws.

In Your Image

France

Production

A EuropaCorp Distribution release of a EuropaCorp, M6 Films production, with participation of Canal Plus, M6. (International sales: EuropaCorp, Paris.) Produced by Virginie Silla. Directed by Aruna Villiers. Screenplay, Villiers, Franck Philippon, Guillaume Laurant, based on the novel by Louise L. Lambrichs.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Gerard Sterin; editors, Joelle Hache, Olivier Gajan; music, Alexandre Azaria; production designer, Philippe Chiffre; costume designer, Valerie Pozzo Di Borgo; sound (Dolby), Eric Devulder, Ken Yasumoto, Vincent Arnardi. Reviewed at UGC Odeon, Paris, May 28, 2004. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Mathilde - Nastassja Kinski Thomas - Christophe Lambert Manon - Audrey Dewilder Mathilde's Mother - Francine Berge Professor Cardoze - Andrzej Seweryn Mathilde's Father - Rufus
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