Lately, Tilda Swinton’s mainstream profile has risen due to her involvement in projects like The Chronicles of Narnia series and Michael Clayton, for which she won an Oscar. But there’s really no argument that Swinton is primarily an art house actress — and one of the best in that nebulous category.
Still, not all non-mainstream Swinton films are created equal, and her ongoing collaboration with Lynn Hershman Leeson so far hasn’t delivered a film as memorable or striking as Orlando or Julia.
Microcinema has released the first two parts of a planned sci-fi feminist trilogy from Leeson (the third part, Gene to the Fourth, is currently in development) with Conceiving Ada and Teknolust. Both were previously available on now-OOP (though not prohibitively expensive) DVDs.
1997’s Conceiving Ada is, simply put, a mess. Swinton is not even in any place to salvage the proceedings as her character is relegated to a merely symbolic state. The real focus of the film is computer scientist Emmy Coer (the painfully histrionic Francesca Faridany, in her only film role to date), who is working on a project that connects artificial life with real life.
In the process, she discovers she can communicate with the 19th Century’s Ada Lovelace (Swinton), a mathematical genius who wrote a computer language 100 years before computers were even invented. Hers is a fascinating tale, but it’s hardly the one this film is telling. Instead, we get lots of sci-fi mumbo jumbo that allows Emmy to compress time to view Ada’s past as if it were happening in real time and to talk directly to her. And these are the tolerable parts of the film.
Elsewhere, Emmy moans about being misunderstood by her boyfriend and worries about the child she is about to have. It all results in a muddled, unconvincing portrait that wants to say something about the struggles that women who are ahead of their time face.
It doesn’t help matters that Microcinema’s DVD has to be one of the worst uses of the format in some time. The letterboxed, non-anamorphic image is hideous and appears to have been ported directly from the VHS. There are even VHS tracking lines that appear on the image occasionally.