You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Future Baby’

Carl Djerassi, Barbara Katz-Rothman, Miriam Zoll, Jeffrey Steinberg, Jaron Rabinovici, Carmel Shalev, Andrew Hessel, Anna Smajdor. (English, French, Spanish, Hungarian dialogue)

In vitro fertilization and related procedures are emotive subjects continually being re-shaped by advances at the scalpel-sharp edge of science; as such, the topic could provide fertile ground for polemic delivered from every angle. Writer-director Maria Arlamovsky avoids this approach in “Future Baby” by giving airtime to a wide range of expert sources, who unfold the issues in layman’s terms, generally as dispassionately as possible, making this a decent primer for anybody thinking of dipping a cautious toe in the world of medically-assisted baby-making.

The film’s classical approach to the documentary form — talking head vignettes are interspersed with footage of subjects at work — would make it accessible to a broad TV audience, though its stoic avoidance of sensationalism may count against it in a world of networks fixated on generating hashtag chatter.

Coming on like an exemplary term paper from a student who is consistently top of his class, Arlamovsky’s “Future Baby” is meticulous in its research and range of contributors presented. Interviewees include doctors, embryologists, CEOs, journalists, would-be parents, egg donors, academics, a young woman born via IVF, a bioethicist, a biotechnologist and a sociologist. It’s a thorough selection. The focus is on expertise rather than emotion, with the majority of contributors delivering professional opinions in a diplomatic register.

There are moments which despite their low-key delivery, retain the power to shock. A visit to the My Donor Cycle Agency, which is outfitted in a way more reminiscent of a luxury spa than a medical center, offers a glimpse into a version of consumer choice that would feel right at home in “Brave New World.” An anonymous would-be father on a Skype call with an IVF center is walked through pictures of photogenic egg donors in a manner evoking a high-end dating service. One prospective donor, an attractive young Berkeley graduate hoping to pay off her student loan, is rejected by the caller for being perhaps “a little heavy.” The center employee demurs flimsily, suggesting that because so many of their donors are model-thin, he might be having trouble assessing her by normal standards.

Of the experts on offer, bioethicist Carmel Shalev stands out as she outlines a concise but effective summary of historical and contemporary issues, beginning by drawing our attention to the 1970s position, where medical intervention in reproduction involved the freedom to choose not to become pregnant, not to continue with a pregnancy and not to unduly risk the life of mother or child via unsafe childbirth. She sets this in stark contrast to the current interpretation of “the right to parenthood” as less the right to attempt parenthood than an unalienable, almost consumerist right to a child, tracing a spectrum from wish to desire to need to entitlement, and asking audiences to consider where their own emotions in regard to parenthood sit on this spectrum.

Where the doc sometimes falls short given the subject matter is in its emotional engagement. The filmmakers have done their homework, and have clearly been resolute in their attempt to be fully inclusive of a broad range of perspectives, but the result is that the film reads as somewhat encyclopedic in tone. We taste snippets of each experience and rarely revisit a character once their minute or two in the spotlight is done, with the result that even the most engaging of the human interest stories feels abbreviated. An exception to the generally clinical approach is a surrogate’s caesarean delivery filmed from above, a sort of god’s-eye view of a relatively new form of creation.

Broadcasters with an interest in efficiently made and ethically sound feature-length docs on hot-button topics could consider acquisition; it’s not a picture likely or perhaps even intended to spark a theatrical rights bidding war, but makes for a solid intro to the contemporary world of IVF.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Future Baby'

Reviewed online, May 2, 2016. (In Hot Docs film festival.) Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — Austria) An NGF Geyrhalter Film production. Produced by Michael Kitzberger, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Markus Glaser, Wolfgang Widerhofer.

Crew: Directed, written by Maria Arlamovsky. Camera (color, RED 4K), Sebastian Arlamovsky; editor, Natalie Schwager; music, Vincent Pongracz, Alana Newman; sound, Thomas Pötz; sound editor/sound designer, Andreas Hamza; production coordinator, Daniela Mautner Markhof; production managers, Katharina Posch, Flavio Marchetti, Lixi Frank; line producer, Michael Kitzberger.

With: Carl Djerassi, Barbara Katz-Rothman, Miriam Zoll, Jeffrey Steinberg, Jaron Rabinovici, Carmel Shalev, Andrew Hessel, Anna Smajdor. (English, French, Spanish, Hungarian dialogue)

More Film

  • Fred Wolf to Direct 'Love 40'

    Film News Roundup: Fred Wolf to Direct Tennis Rom-Com 'Love 40'

    In today’s film news roundup, Fred Wolf is directing a romantic comedy in New York; Leah Remini, Chinoye Chukwu, Marielle Heller and Lulu Wang receive honors; and the topless bar documentary “Red Dog” finds a home. ‘LOVE 40’ Bluewater Lane Productions has brought on Fred Wolf to co-write and direct the romantic comedy “Love 40,” [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Lupita Nyong'o Follows Hollywood's Tradition of Two Roles in One Film

    Peter Sellers played three roles in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 “Dr. Strangelove.” In December of that year, Variety reported that Columbia was mounting an Oscar campaign for lead actor, but was also considering three supporting-actor campaigns, for each of his characters. (They settled on one campaign, and Sellers’ nomination as lead actor was one of the [...]

  • 'Legion' TV show premiere

    Noah Hawley to Write and Direct Next 'Star Trek' Movie

    “Fargo” and “Legion” creator Noah Hawley has been tapped to write and direct the next installment of the “Star Trek” franchise, sources tell Variety. Though plot details are being kept under wraps, sources tell Variety the next “Star Trek” is expected to see Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and Zoe Saldana returning to man [...]

  • Paramount Movie Theater Paramount Consent Decree

    Why Eliminating the Paramount Antitrust Decrees Won't Shake Up the Movie Business

    The Paramount Decrees have been the rules of the road for Hollywood since the golden age of movies, but the Justice Department’s decision to do away with directives that were hammered out decades before the rise of cable or streaming has barely registered within the entertainment industry. That’s because they are widely seen as anachronisms [...]

  • Kristen Bell Frozen 2

    'Frozen 2' Cast Weighs in: Should Elsa Have a Girlfriend?

    The cast of Disney’s “Frozen 2” gave their two cents on whether or not Princess Elsa should one day find a girlfriend in any of the future films. The idea has been a hopeful wish of fans due to Elsa’s lack of a male love interest in “Frozen” or its sequel. At the movie’s red [...]

  • the two popes

    How Luca Canfora Recreated The Papal Vestments for 'The Two Popes'

    Luca Canfora is no stranger to designing papal vestments; his previous projects include “The Young Pope” and “The New Pope.” Coming into Fernando Meirelles’ “The Two Popes” meant Canfora knew where he could have costumes made with the highest quality, and when it came to fabric choice and constructing his costumes. Canfora had to create [...]

  • Pom Klementieff poses at the launch

    Pom Klementieff Lands New Role in Next 'Mission: Impossible' Film

    “Guardians of the Galaxy” star Pom Klementieff is set to join the latest installment of Paramount and Skydance’s “Mission: Impossible,” joining Tom Cruise, who is reprising his role of Ethan Hunt. Christopher McQuarrie announced the news on Instagram on Tuesday, and is returning to write and direct the seventh and eighth movies, which will be [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content