Now in Rep Cinema: World on a Wire, Barney's Version, The Conformist, The New World
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Now in Rep Cinema: World on a Wire, Barney’s Version, The Conformist, The New World

Each week, Now in Rep Cinema compiles the best repertory and art house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements.

  mm_revue_sm.jpg   Barney’s Version
The Revue
Monday June 13, 9 p.m.
  mm_bloor_sm.jpg   The Conformist
The Bloor
Wednesday, June 15, 7 p.m.
  mm_royal_small.jpg   The New World
The Royal
Thursday June 16, 9 p.m.
  mm_lightbox_sm.jpg   World on a Wire
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Friday June 17, 6:30 p.m.
Sunday June 19, 3:45 p.m.

World on a Wire
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Friday June 17, 6:30 p.m. and Sunday June 19, 3:45 p.m.

mm_lightbox.jpg Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Welt am Draht (World on a Wire) is undoubtedly an interesting film—even its problems are interesting. But before that, a bit on what it’s about.
World on a Wire stars Klaus Löwitsch, a regular in Fassbinder’s stable, as a high-tech computer programmer working on a simulation of a small community: sentient beings live, eat, and work inside a computer program known as Simulacron. (Kind of like in Reboot.) Suddenly, his mentor dies in a strange accident after revealing that he knows something that will shake the foundations of their real (i.e. non-simulated) world. Then people start disappearing into thin air. In the mode of classic 1970s paranoia films, Löwitsch’s Dr. Stiller runs around trying to figure out just what’s going on, subsumed in a sea of paranoia, shrill music cues, and dramatic zooms. We’ll save you the spoiler, but suffice it to say that if you’ve ever seen The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor (which was basically a remake of World on a Wire), or that movie where even the dream is a dream, you can probably make an educated guess at how World on a Wire unfolds.
That the film came out 1973 (it aired in two parts on German TV, but hasn’t received a proper theatrical run until now), and worked through sci-fi tropes that are so old hat these days is interesting. How do you approach themes which have now been digested and chewed two and three times over? It’s like if you were really into doom metal and had never heard Master of Reality and then someone gave it to you. Would you even be bowled over? Certainly, something of the film’s vision—of being like thirty years ahead of the curve—impresses.
Mooring the nesting-simulation idea (okay, so we just spoiled it) in the filmmaking modes of the ‘70s works too, in a kind of campy way that has to be intentional. Fassbinder’s take on the material seems at once deathly serious (as if there are big-time capital-i Ideas at play here) while also jokey. Löwitsch spins 180-degrees on his heel countless times throughout the film, characters put down whiskeys in Mad Men-ish volumes, and in one scene, two characters have what’s ostensibly a very important conversation while whirling around in modern tub chairs. It may just be the sly contempt that most of Fassbinder’s films exhibit for the German bourgeois, peeking through the narrative trappings of a sci-fi thriller. (Certainly, an early sequence at an upper-crust house party is staged with a ludicrous playfulness.) Even if the ideas at play seem a bit dusty by today’s standards (because everyone knows filmmaking is super-duper cerebral these days), if you’re a fan of the paranoid-chic upholstery, you’re bound to like World on a Wire.
There’s also, of course, the issue of the film being three-plus hours long. This can be explained by its original airing as a mini-series, where you can generally get away with spinning your wheels and running in place a bit more than you can with a proper film. But still, World on a Wire lags, especially in its second half. It’s a bit impressive, though, that it doesn’t lag more than it does. The first two hours clip along rather briskly. And even if it is overlong, World on a Wire is a thoroughly exciting bit of filmmaking. It’s so alive in its central contradiction—of being a totally self-serious bit of sci-fi filmmaking that has an excellent sense of humour about itself—that it winds of being irresistibly gleeful, and certainly one of the strangest films the insanely prolific Fassbinder ever slapped his name on. If anything, it’s just exciting to be able to see this film theatrically, after the decades it’s spent collecting dust in the Fassbinder archives.

Also Unspooling…

Barney’s Version
The Revue (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)
Monday June 13, 9 p.m.

mm_revue_sm.jpg The thing about Barney’s Version is that, really, Barney’s Version wasn’t all that bad. It was just desperate: desperate to be liked, desperate to be taken seriously, desperately classy. But when you strip away all the fuss around the film that followed it into TIFF and Venice last year, and then into the Oscars (where it was more-or-less snubbed) you’re left with a film that’s actually pretty half-decent. Paul Giamatti is a natural as Mordecai Richler’s grumbling bad-man protagonist. Dustin Hoffman’s even better as his dad. Throw in some cameos by David Cronenberg, Paul Gross, and Denys Arcand, and you’ve got a movie that’s consistently charming, while also meeting all the requisite Can Con quotas. And how about that Scott Speedman? Certainly not hard on the eyes!

The Conformist
The Bloor (506 Bloor Street West)
Wednesday June 15, 7 p.m.

mm_bloor_sm.jpg Everybody always talks about the dangers of conformism. Like that Rush song “Subdivisions.” That was about conforming, right? Or non-conforming? Something like that. Anyway, it’s one thing to sing about the need to be normal in the high school halls and shopping malls, but Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 drama The Conformist looks at the value of being normal in a more heated political context: Mussolini’s Italy. Jean-Louis Trintignant stars as Marcello, an unremarkable, everyday bureaucrat hired by Il Duce’s secret police to assassinate his former professor, an outspoken anti-Fascist. Troubled all his life, Marcello sees his duty to the fascist government of a way of bringing his own psyche in line with that of the state. It remains a harrowing portrait of fascist psychology, and the middle-class.

The New World
The Royal (608 College Street)
Thursday June 16, 9 p.m.

mm_underground_sm.jpg So like everyone, we’ve been kicking up a lot of dust recently about the Lightbox’s welcome retrospective showcasing the films of Terrence Malick. And we’re especially happy about being able to see 2003’s The New World, because it’s fantastic. But the Lightbox doesn’t have some Malick monopoly, especially with all those prints floating through town. So in case you missed it, you can check out The New World this week at the Royal. The story of the early Jamestown colonies in America, and the mythic love affair between Englishman John Smith and native princess Pocahontas, The New World remains our favourite Malick film. And, yes, that includes The Tree of Life.

Illustrations by Clayton Hanmer/Torontoist.