The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.
At rep cinemas this week: an intimate portrait of a woman dealing with early-onset Alzheimer’s, David Cronenberg’s most personal horror film, and a look at the fight for better First Nations education.
The Genius of Marian
Directed by Banker White and Anna Fitch
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
One of the best-received official selections at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, The Genius of Marian profiles director Banker White’s mother Pam after she’s diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 61—only a decade after her artist mother Marian Williams Steele died of the same disease. Before her diagnosis, Pam was in the early stages of researching a book about her mother, which makes the film a multi-layered love letter from children to their ill parents that spans three generations of artists.
White has clearly been inspired by Sarah Polley’s recent Stories We Tell, which similarly tries to reanimate a departed loved one through a mixture of present-day interviews and video recreations dressed up like old home movies. At its best, though, The Genius of Marian has a peculiar energy and an emotional pull all its own, as in the disorienting family portrait with which the film opens: a handheld holiday scene that circles around the living room to find Pam in her element before we know she’s to be our subject. This is a moving film, but also a solidly constructed one. And, to its credit, it’s more interested in creating a nuanced portrait of its central character than in having her stand in for the many faces of Alzheimer’s.
White will be in attendance at both Wednesday and Thursday’s screenings for post-film discussions.
Directed by David Cronenberg
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
Made during his divorce from his first wife, The Brood may well be the most personal of David Cronenberg’s early body-horror films. It’s a deeply unpleasant—if honest—glimpse into an artist’s overwhelming anxieties about everything from the burgeoning agency of modern women in the late 1970s to the horrors of raising children.
Cronenberg’s surrogate in the film is Frank (Art Hindle), a father engaged in a bitter custody battle over his daughter, Candice (Cindy Hinds), with his estranged wife, Nola (Samantha Eggar). Nola has recently taken a dark turn and landed in the care of quack therapist Raglan (Oliver Reed), who treats his patients with an experimental technique called “psychoplasmics.” That’s to say nothing of the titular brood, a host of facially deformed, asexual dwarf children in snowsuits who seem to do Nola’s every psychic bidding.
Practically austere next to the grotesque makeup shows of later films like The Fly and Naked Lunch, The Brood thrives on a more primal sort of male terror—call it the fear of mallet-wielding demonic children and monstrous wombs. You certainly wouldn’t call the film’s reproductive panic progressive, but Cronenberg’s critique of New Age therapy and the culture of self-improvement nevertheless continues to resonate.
Directed by Alanis Obomsawin
TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)
One of the most established documentarians in Canada and a tireless advocate for First Nations peoples’ rights, Alanis Obomsawin has had a long and storied career in advocacy filmmaking. Her newest, Hi-Ho Mistahey!, tackles a crisis in education for Aboriginal youths. It follows Shannen’s Dream, a recent campaign to force the Canadian government to establish equality in access to education across the country.
Obomsawin spends most of the film in Attawapiskat, profiling a community that fights for its children’s future despite a complete lack of interest on the part of the government. As is true of Obomsawin’s best work, this is both a clear-eyed examination of grassroots activism and an incensed polemic about the kinds of apathy that have systematically created present-day problems. If the closing minutes are in danger of putting too positive a spin on the results of the campaign, you can at least understand where the utopian sentiment is coming from.