The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: David Cronenberg’s identical-twin melodrama, Roman Polanski’s pregnancy horror show, and Denis Villeneuve’s first Hollywood thriller.
Directed by David Cronenberg
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
When Jeremy Irons won his Oscar for Reversal of Fortune, he saved his last words of thanks for David Cronenberg, who had directed him to a career high in Dead Ringers just a few years earlier. It isn’t hard to see why the movie was such a turning point in Irons’ career. He gives two distinct, powerful performances as Elliot and Bev, a pair of identical-twin gynecologists with diametrically opposed personalities—the one as slick as the other is bumbling. In lesser hands, this story of twins who get involved with the same woman (Geneviève Bujold) and find their bond unravelling might come off as farce, but Cronenberg plays this potentially saucy material as the stuff of an earnest melodrama about frayed family ties.
Dead Ringers marked something of a turn in Cronenberg’s career, from the more grotesque (if still intellectually rigorous) body horror of Videodrome and The Fly into relatively conventional psychological dramas like Spider and A History of Violence. But it’s impossible to mistake Bev’s transformation into a drug-addled paranoid mess—prepping, in one horrifying sequence, to use his own modified gynecological instruments in surgery—for the work of any other director.
Cronenberg and Irons will be at the Lightbox to introduce Thursday’s screening of Dead Ringers in advance of the opening of TIFF’s Cronenberg exhibition.
Directed by Roman Polanski
Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
Though it’s widely regarded as one of the great modern horror films and one of the most alarming thrillers ever made about a pregnancy gone wrong, Rosemary’s Baby might work best as a creepy satire of neighbourly relations. Much as Mia Farrow impresses as a Bohemian waif whose life is taken over by well-meaning interlopers the moment they discover she’s expecting, it’s no surprise that the film’s lone Oscar went to Ruth Gordon for her portrayal of Minnie Castevet, the pushy, vaguely European old Other down the hall, who always shows up at the appointed hour with her suspiciously green prenatal milkshakes, whether you want her to or not.
In recent years, Roman Polanski’s troubling personal life has overshadowed his work, and some of his later films, like The Ghost Writer, seem like bad dreams born of his persecution complex. It’s easy, when one is mired in this biographical talk, to forget how sinister his movies are, and, paradoxically, how funny. Much of Rosemary’s Baby is hysterical, as when Farrow insists that there’s a sickly “undertaste” to the pudding her neighbour has kindly plied her with. The rest of it is plain scary, the stuff of nightmares about losing control of one’s own body and finding that the person growing inside you is, like everyone around you, a total stranger.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)
Prisoners is a transitional film for director Denis Villeneuve. After representing Canada at the Academy Awards with Incendies, his contemporary riff on Greek tragedy, the Quebec filmmaker has made his first English-language production in this child abduction thriller, a high-pedigree international debut that inevitably succumbs to Hollywood clichés.
Beautifully lensed by long-time Coen brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film starts off as a gripping police procedural. Keller (Hugh Jackman) is heading a search for his missing daughter and her friend—an investigation that draws in crack investigator Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal). When Loki’s only major suspect, a developmentally challenged local man named Alex (Paul Dano), is released due to a lack of evidence, Keller takes the reins of the investigation himself, kidnapping and imprisoning Alex in hopes that he’ll talk.
If Keller’s actions seem rash, rest assured that they’re only the first illogical steps on a long ladder that culminates in a baffling chase sequence involving…well, we won’t spoil it, but it’s fairly absurd. Ridiculous as Prisoners eventually gets, when it’s working it has an undeniable pulpy charm, thanks largely to Gyllenhaal’s and Jackman’s compelling performances and Deakins’ grimy, rain-drenched images.