Rep Cinema This Week: Citizenfour, Mommy, and Maps to the Stars
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Rep Cinema This Week: Citizenfour, Mommy, and Maps to the Stars

The best repertory and art-house screenings, special presentations, lectures, and limited engagements in Toronto.

Still from Citizenfour.

At rep cinemas this week: a tense behind-the-scenes look at Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing, Canada’s Oscar hopeful, and David Cronenberg’s Hollywood satire.

Directed by Laura Poitras

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

A rare documentary that also ranks among the scariest movies of the year, Laura Poitras’s alarming Citizenfour is a singular thing, a paranoid thriller about government surveillance in the information age that happens to be about real people in real situations. A Berlin-based journalist whose work on NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures of unprecedented global and domestic surveillance earned her a Pulitzer Prize earlier this year, Poitras documents the lead-up to her initial anxious encounter with the soon-to-be whistleblower in a Hong Kong hotel room, where Snowden shared his information with her, Glenn Greenwald, and additional reporters from the Guardian days before the reporters broke the story and made global headlines. The result is an absorbing, tautly edited, and genuinely tense real-time look at how news gets made. It’s also a portrait of Snowden’s increasingly precarious situation in the days after the news was published, when his previously anonymous face became fodder for billboards.

For all its sweaty-palmed thrills and its importance as a behind-the-scenes look at a critical exposé in the making, Citizenfour isn’t perfect. Poitras’s narration is usually restrained, and refreshingly self-effacing for someone involved in breaking such an enormous story, but her decision to relay her ominous encrypted email correspondence with Snowden—which punctures the darkened screen with radioactive green text—feels a bit like grandstanding. The same is true of a late conversation she captures between Greenwald and Snowden, where the former, anxious about being recorded, relegates his most important points to a series of barely hidden Post-it notes, which, when we inevitably see them, read like the stuff of conspiracy theory movies, with lines including “This one goes right up to the top.” Citizenfour is scariest when it lets us do the heavy lifting without such obvious cues, putting ourselves in Snowden’s shoes and taking in the full weight of his disclosure—that our lives are not our own, but part of the ever-expanding consciousness of the cloud.

Directed by Xavier Dolan

Still from Mommy

Still from Mommy.

Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)

Though great Canadian filmmaking hope Xavier Dolan seemed disappointed to have nabbed only a third-place trophy at Cannes this May for Mommy—tied with that other other spring chicken, Jean-Luc Godard—he should buck up. If Mommy isn’t the revolutionary masterpiece its partisans want it to be, it’s at least an accomplished, actor-driven melodrama and a nice step forward in a successful young career.

After a superfluous title card that sets the film in an apocalyptic future Canada where parents can deposit their wayward youth into the hands of the state, Mommy settles into a nice rhythm as an emotional, talky three-hander between exhausted mother Die (a very strong Anne Dorval), volatile firebrand son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), and gentle, stammering neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément), who fleetingly negotiate their way to a peaceful coexistence in the cramped space of Dolan’s claustrophobic 1:1 frame. Like the title card, the square frame is one cheeky aesthetic garnish too many, but thanks to the fine performances of MVPs Dorval and Clément, we’re starting to come around to Dolan’s excesses.

Maps to the Stars
Directed by David Cronenberg

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

Between the incest, the ghostly parents, and the mad children, Bruce Wagner’s script for Maps to the Stars seems as much an unwieldy collection of CanLit tropes as a soapy tribute to its director, body horror pioneer David Cronenberg. That gives the film an unhinged charm for anyone in on either joke—“Look,” they’ll say, “it’s the Genie Cronenberg won for Spider!”—but it won’t win many converts.

Julianne Moore leads a stacked ensemble featuring luminaries as disparate as John Cusack (weak) and Robert Pattinson (surprisingly great). She plays Havana, a Hollywood has-been hoping to snag a role in a remake of the film that made her late, sexually abusive mother Clarice (Sarah Gadon, playing the catty phantom) famous, though the arrival of personal assistant Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a dead ringer for her mother and a burn victim like her to boot, complicates matters.

Maps to the Stars is Cronenberg’s first proper black comedy, but his rhythms are oddly syncopated, as though each punchline is being delivered underwater. That makes for a weird song, sung off-key.