A Double Dose Of Dread And Paranoia
I am breaking form this week, covering two movies in one piece. My intention in the beginning of this challenge was to write mini reviews for each movie, but I’ve often gotten carried away into full length reviews. Not this week. Firstly, I am slammed for time and trying not to fall behind on both viewing and writing. Secondly…for the first time this year I’ve failed to finish one of the #52FilmsByWomen movies. But let me talk about the movie that I did finish.
Film #12: Citizenfour (2014)
Director: Laura Poitras
Laura Poitras’ Oscar-nominated Citizenfour covers events that happened only three years ago, and yet it feels much more remote. In December 2012 Poitras began receiving encrypted emails from Edward Snowden (using the name “Citizenfour”), offering to blow the whistle on a massive government surveillance program – the kind of of surveillance that intelligence officials had sworn before congress was not happening. Most of this documentary takes places over several days in June 2013, filmed inside a Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden met with Poitras and journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. Snowden, an N.S.A. employee, provided mountains of documents that showed the sweeping intrusions into our privacy that were taking place every day.
As a character portrait, Citizenfour is fascinating. Snowden is calm and polite, careful but also prepared to lose his freedom for doing what he believes is right. However the government has depicted his actions, he doesn’t have the air of a cinematic super-villain (unlike Julian Assange, who makes a brief appearance in Citizenfour). The documentary is also a compelling picture of journalists at work. Like Spotlight, it shows that there are people who still take the task of reporting the truth with thoroughness and integrity very seriously.
What was most chilling to me about Citizenfour was that I could watch it and feel so little alarm over the erosion of our privacy and over how habitually and casually our government lies to us. I remember when Snowden’s leaks hit the news. It seemed revolutionary. It felt like a bomb had been thrown into the middle of a corrupt system. But here we are, just a few years later and we’ve all adapted. “Sure, I know the government listens to our phone calls. Sure I know that nothing I post is really private. But what can we do? That’s just the new normal.” And we shrug and move on. Edward Snowden put himself on the line and sacrificed his freedom, and I don’t know that it did any good.
Film #13: Goodnight Mommy (2015)
Directors: Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala
This is my first utter failure in #52FilmsByWomen. I’d heard good things about this Austrian horror film, about identical twin boys who suspect that their mother (recovering from facial reconstructive surgery) is not really their mother. Thing certainly started off well. The twins (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) are gangly preteens, winsome and sympathetic. Their mother (Susanne Wuest) – if she is their mother, of course – seems cold and alien behind her bandages. The house in which most of the action happens is gray, sterile, devoid of human warmth. Directors Fiala and Franz deliver dread like champs, and I hung in for the first hour of the movie. I was braced for the story to go in one direction, but the narrative was starting to twist in ways I didn’t expect and the dread became too much. I paused the movie and read a few reviews. That’s all it took for me to know that I couldn’t handle the rest of the movies. If I had agreed to review Goodnight Mommy for the studio, integrity would require me to watch the ending through my fingers. But since this is my self-selected challenge, and a movie I freely chose to watch – I’m out. What I saw was well done, but the movie was heading into darker places than I care to go. Fortunately, one of my fellow Zeke writers made it all the way to the end of Goodnight Mommy, and you can read the Zeke review here.
Bonus Pick: Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Jess (Parminder Nagra) is being raised in the U.K. by traditional Indian parents but their traditionalism isn’t taking with Jess. She lives and breathes soccer (and worships David Beckham), and wants only to join a local girls’ team. Like Rudy or Billy Elliot, Bend it Like Beckham is really just a story about a kid pursuing a dream despite pressure from family to do otherwise. And like those movies, it’s lightweight, but cheerful and fun. I’ve never liked Keira Knightley more than I did in this early role as Jess’s best friend, Juliette. And if you love soccer (as I do) watching young women play it well is a pleasure, too.