Rep Cinema This Week: The Lobster, The Revenant, and Chi-Raq
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Rep Cinema This Week: The Lobster, The Revenant, and Chi-Raq

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

Still from The Lobster.

At rep cinemas this week: an absurdist comedy about a dystopian society where monogamy is king, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar victory lap, and your last chance to see Spike Lee’s biting hip-hop musical about gun violence on the big screen.

The Lobster
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

Master of the absurd, Greek New Wave luminary Yorgos Lanthimos makes his English-language debut with The Lobster, a slightly less rocky transition to the language than endured by predecessors such as Wong Kar-Wai’s tin-eared My Blueberry Nights. As in Lanthimos’s Academy Award-nominated Dogtooth—and its richer if more unsung follow-up, ALPS—the film takes place in a singularly strange world, this time in a dystopian hotel where guests are given 45 days to meet and hook up with a life partner or be turned into an animal of their choosing. It’s a bold conceit, rife with satirical possibility. But to our disappointment, the film never quite reconciles its ingenious premise with its overly arch, syncopated comic beats, at times seeming all too amused by its superficially clever ideas to deliver much in the way of follow through.

Colin Farrell stars as sad-sack David, thrown into crisis by the recent abandonment of his wife and forced to roam the hotel’s desperate, Dantean meet market, lest he be transformed, Ovid-like, into the titular crustacean. Fleeing the hotel’s grim regime for the forest, David meets a group of renegades, including a possible new love (Rachel Weisz) who might keep him from his clawed fate.

Lanthimos’s trademark minimalist dialogue makes a fairly smooth journey into English, with Farrell and Weisz ably recreating the stultified rhythm and flat affect of the cult survivors from Dogtooth. (Nobody, incidentally, beats Angeliki Papoulia, a Lanthimos alum who is just as otherworldly strange and sad-eyed here as in ALPS.) But there’s an insularity and self-enchantment to the film’s overall presentation—from its ostentatiously dry style to its pencil-thin intellectual pronouncements on everything from monogamy to disability—that makes The Lobster as inaccessible to the unconverted as the umpteenth instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Revenant
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Still from The Revenant.

Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles Avenue)

Leonard DiCaprio finally snagged that elusive Oscar for The Revenant, the latest punishing epic from the now four-time Academy Award-winning auteur Alejandro G. (formerly González) Iñárritu. A bit more narratively straightforward than earlier films, such as 21 Grams and Babel, but just as aesthetically bombastic and prone to meathead philosophizing, The Revenant might be Iñárritu’s best work: a pretentious, goofy revenge tale that swings big and occasionally hits despite being in poor taste.

DiCaprio plays frontiersman Glass, a guide who is betrayed by his men following a vicious grizzly bear attack. Ditched on his back and foaming at the mouth by shifty-eyed enemy Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy, doing one of his less successful funny accents), Glass hauls his broken body across the American wilderness, meeting Native American allies and fighting French-Canadian trappers to make his way back to camp, and to the man who killed his son and left him for dead.

For all the advanced press about the film’s difficult shoot and immaculate, magic-hour cinematography by master Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant is a pretty basic movie. Though impressively mounted and occasionally stirring, it trades in tired old American bromides about vengeance and manliness, and turns in a pathetically inadequate apology for white settler-invaders’ seizure of Native American lands. Believe it or not, that still makes it Iñárritu’s most successful picture, powered by a muscular lead performance—has any actor come alive as often as DiCaprio while crawling on his stomach?—and an enjoyably brash sensibility.

Directed by Spike Lee
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TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King Street West)

Spike Lee returns to form in fiction filmmaking after a successful run as a documentarian with Chi-Raq, a clever and intermittently powerful reimagining of Aristophanes’ Lysistra that takes on the subject of gangland violence in Chicago. Mad Men’s Teyonah Parris stars as the contemporary Lysistra, a woman who becomes community organizer and peace activist alike when she persuades the women of Chicago to swear off sex with their gang-affiliated partners–including the titular rapper and child of the city, Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon), and rival baddie Cyclops (Wesley Snipes)–until the men cease their gun violence. Setting up shop in the local armoury–seized, to the police’s great surprise, through entirely nonviolent means–the women start a global movement that seeks to put a redemptive end to masculinist violence.

As always, Lee is a filmmaker of ideas, and he packs a lot of stirring ideological debate about gun culture, poverty, and police violence against Black bodies into an aesthetically playful package which includes, of course, iambic pentameter and rhyme. (We were especially taken with his mix of heady discourse and goofy wordplay that links the film’s chorus Dolmedes, played by Samuel L. Jackson, with Wheaties.) One wishes those ideas weren’t sullied by the film’s casual heteronormative stance and lazy sexism, which makes beautiful objects of the female leads it ostensibly celebrates, but one takes the bad with the good in what is probably the filmmaker’s most important statement since Bamboozled in 2000.