Emilia Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor outsource their pregnancy in Sophie Barthes’ futuristic parody

The Pod Generation

Source: Sundance Film Festival

‘The Pod Generation’

Dir: Sophie Barthes. Belgium/France/UK. 2023. 109mins

Everything seems to be getting outsourced in the modern world and Sophie Barthes takes the idea one step further in her gently absurdist comedy satire, asking what if it was possible to do the same with pregnancy? It’s a return to the near-future of Barthes’ debut Cold Souls – which also premiered at Sundance, in 2009 – after her step back in time for 2015’s Madame Bovary. The Pod Generation blends its tech parody with more quirky observations of the anxieties of impending parenthood and, if Barthes doesn’t always sink the satire’s talons in quite as far as she might, the film’s sweet-natured hopefulness and charming central couple should see it win over distributors and audiences.

 The science is believable, which adds to the general immersiveness of the world Barthes has created.

The idea of outsourcing pregnancy is a bone of contention between Rachel (Emilia Clark) and Alvy Novy (Chiwetel Ejiofor) – or at least it would be if career-driven Rachel had actually told her nature-loving botanist husband that she’s put them on the waiting list at The Womb Centre. Run by tech company Pegazus, it offers to do away with the labours of pregnancy, including the conception and, indeed, the labour.

It all happens at your convenience and as personally tailored as you want – no men required. The gestation game then happens in an egg-shaped pod, in a tasteful pastel, which you get to have at home for a short spell. Rachel’s company, which monitors her productivity via an amusing AI that looks like a blinking eye on a stalk, nudges her in the direction of the pod method with the promise of promotion and financial assistance.

Despite Alvy’s reservations about the process, he agrees. It’s not long before they’re watching sperm in a race to the ovum on a big screen, egged on by The Womb Centre’s Linda (Rosalie Craig), a model of corporate efficiency. The science of this and other segments is believable, which also adds to the general immersiveness of the world Barthes has created. Rachel regularly prods at an app to offer music and other stimulation to the pod once it is fertilised, not unlike a Tamagochi. The film hits its targets with this sort of wry observation about the commodification and gamification of life, with an AI also measuring Alvy’s ‘bliss index’ and finding him wanting. (Werner Herzog fans will also enjoy the unexpected cameo from his nihilist penguin from Encounters At The End of The World.)

When the pod comes home the fun really starts, as it is Alvy who now starts to bond with the unborn baby while Rachel feels left out. Once or twice, it looks as though Barthes will take her tech satire in a more sinister direction, as the terms and conditions of pod use start to shift, but she holds back in favour of putting the emphasis on more situational humour, which may prove frustrating for some.

Among the highlights is a lovely extended series of jokes about the body carrier used to transport the pod, which will likely strike a chord with anyone who has ever tried to get to grips with a baby sling. Although the pace flags occasionally, Clarke and Ejiofor completely sell the minor skirmishes and conflicts of the couple while letting their evident love for one another retain a permanent sense of hopefulness.

The look is elevated by beautiful production design from Clement Price-Thomas, who ceates some lovely futuristic flourishes – including food replicators and people breathing oxygen from plants in jars – while still keeping it in touch with the scandi-dominated look of today. The wardrobe team also put in some sterling work, with Rachel’s clothes leaning toward the absurd side of futuristic in contrast to Alvy’s retro looking T-shirts and woollies. Barthes may not believe in pod technology, but she has plenty of faith in human relationships.

Production companies: Quad, Scope Pictures

International sales: MK2 intlsales@mk2.com

Producers: Genevieve Lemal, Yann Zenou, Nadia Kamlichi, Martin Metz

Cinematography: Andrij Parekh

Production design: Clement Price-Thomas

Editing: Ron Patane, Olivier Bugge-Coutté

Music: Sacha Galperine, Evgueni Galperine

Main cast: Emilia Clarke, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rosalie Craig, Vinette Robinson, Jean-Marc Barr