Church Folk


Claudio Giovannesi, Fiore, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 109 minutes.

IT’S A PLEASURE TO REPORT that at least half of this year’s selections in the Open Roads series of New Italian cinema would make any film festival worth attending.

Edoardo De Angelis’s Indivisible is a flashy opening feature, with its tale of twin teenage girls physically joined at the hip, but it also underlines the powerful forces of church and family that remain critical elements in Italian movies. Both themes are as inextricably bound in this film as the twins themselves (played by Angela and Marianna Fontana), whose condition is exploited by a father who parades them around Naples to sing in public and by the local priest who refuses to endorse the surgery that would give them independent lives because it would deprive his parishioners of a cheap source of inspiration.

An altogether different and more compelling take on church and family is Federica Di Giacomo’s mesmerizing documentary Liberami, one of the juicier morsels in this year’s lineup. The driving idea is that the Father of Lies—aka Lucifer—has gone viral. Endnotes inform us that we are in a global crisis: In Spain, the archdiocese of Madrid is short on exorcists, while the United States has more of them than ever, and in Italy the situation is so acute that Milan and Rome have emergency hotlines. (The devil, it seems, can be talked out of his mischief by cell phone.) Liberami is a cross between Living Theater and a Neorealist, if sardonic, romp through horror-movie conventions—but don’t expect The Exorcist (1971). No elevated beds, revolving heads, or spewing bile bedeck the film. The afflicted Sicilian souls who flock to Father Cataldo whenever they sense imminent take-over provide enough acting out—screaming obscenities, rolling eyes to the back of the head, and convulsing on the floor—to suggest that their behavior is more about the urge to purge forbidden desires and suppressed rage than it is about demonic possession. We know more today about autism and the mental conditions that once seemed alien, so even Father Cataldo recognizes that those who keep showing up claiming possession have psychological disorders or are in desperate need for attention. (No doubt, the presence of cameras did little to quell their fervor.) Nevertheless, he sympathizes as he bestows soothing, forgiving comfort on these “victims.” One young lady, aware of the fine line between natural drives and supernatural forces, refuses to surrender certain aspects of her “possession.” And we understand when a young man, enraged by his girlfriend’s taunts, complains that unless he rolls around the floor he’s not getting the help he needs. As fascinating as it is compassionate, the film avoids cheap shots and condescension in its effort to shed light on a grossly misunderstood phenomenon.

Though less blatant and more slickly attired, the devil’s work is more nefarious in Roberto Andò’s The Confessions, a moral allegory about global capitalism and corporate greed. The action, set in a luxurious German hotel, concerns the plans of eight international bankers and economists, each a minister of the world’s superpowers, gathered at a summit meeting by their leader Daniel Roche (Daniel Auteuil), whose suicide throws a wrench into the affair. They suspect that Roberto Sallus, a strange priest, has something to do with it, since he was invited by Roche and was the last to speak to him. Sallus’s vow of silence, however, prevents him from revealing the man’s final confession, perpetuating the mystery. As played by the charming Toni Servillo, whose ability to project serene detachment is especially effective, Sallus carries the moral force that hovers over the summit and sustains the film’s air of metaphysical something-or-other, but the secrecy that binds him also lets the movie off the hook, allowing its moral agenda to remain both vague and predictable—a denouement further compounded by the inexplicable turn in the behavior of a large hound and a last-minute hint that Sallus may be something other than mere mortal.

Federica Di Giacomo, Deliver Us (Liberami), 2016, HD video, color, sound, 90 minutes.

Far more earthbound, Fiore is a sober look at teenagers whose lives seem forever shadowed by prospects of imprisonment. The film provides neither easy answers to the social problems that led them there nor sentimental speculations about a brighter future. Though every character and actor strikes a credible note—prison guards, visiting parents, and the adolescents themselves, the film is driven by Daphne, played by winning newcomer Daphne Scoccia. A tarnished angel whose face registers every emotion, confused and real, and every desperate but futile hope, Daphne veers from hotheaded impulses to promises to rein them in with a sulky conviction both palpable and pathetic. But Scoccia, whose face the camera loves, never sinks to cloying appeals for sympathy. We cringe at her hardness when she robs people at knifepoint, but when she delivers a cynical goodbye to Josh (Josciua Algeri), the young convict she’s fallen in love with, we note that she sees through more illusions than any young person should have to. Director Claudio Giovannesi, who cowrote the screenplay, allows neither attention-grabbing camerawork nor sermonizing to undermine the extraordinary natural appeal and unnerving veracity of his female lead. She bears watching.

Seasoned auteurs Marco Bellocchio and Gianni Amelio are represented by fine new work. The latter’s Tenderness, set in Naples, is a moving character study of Lorenzo (Renato Carpentieri), a tough-skinned former lawyer recovering from a recent illness. As we learn from the opening scene, involving his daughter and an immigrant trying to make his case, knowledge of the “other” seems to be a running motif and lies behind the event that disrupts the film’s initial composure. When Lorenzo’s friendship with the couple next door and their two children is cut short by tragedy, he is forced to confront his estranged relationship with his own children. More telling of the film’s dark, melancholy mood is the title of the prize-winning novel on which it is based, _The Temptation to Be Happy, by Lorenzo Moreno. Yet nothing prepares us for the genuine shock of the film’s key episode, which proves how little we know about the inner torments that drive people to act against their own well-being.

Bellocchio’s Sweet Dreams, based on Massimo Gramellini’s best-selling autobiographical novel, is a compelling study of the lifelong effects of a troubling symbiotic relationship between a depressed mother and her son. Massimo (Valerio Mastandrea) has been lied to for forty years about his mother’s suicide when he was nine. Juggling a confused myth about her, he alternates between unhealthy idealization and anger, suffers panic attacks, and has problems with women. The film’s shifts between past and present embody the sense that, while Massimo’s career as a journalist moves from one event and place to another, his psychological reality is frozen in time. Attuned, as always, to personal and social pathology, Bellocchio captures the abandonment any child feels when his mother leaves inexplicably, forcing him to conclude that he was at fault. But the director adds an astute touch in the final sequence—and especially the final shot—that has even greater impact than the novel, brilliantly fusing the love and terror of a child’s dependency on a disturbed mother while empathically telegraphing the mother’s despair.

The daily grind of a working-class family is the focus of Daniele Vicari’s Sun, Heart, Love, a sober, touching, ultimately tragic tale. But where classic Italian cinema would focus on the husband’s plight, here, Eli (Isabella Ragonese), the breadwinner, is our barometer. Despite a predawn two-hour bus ride to Rome, where she’s on her feet all day at a busy café before the ride home to her husband and children, she maintains a cheerful spirit, ignoring even serious health issues. Her friend and foil is the sexually confused Vale, whose erotic performances at a nightclub are tinged by her barely suppressed masochism and deep unhappiness. Vicari’s convincing humanism and unflashy style make the concluding scene, in which these contrasting portraits of contemporary Italian women are unexpectedly crosscut, nothing less than heartbreaking.

Tony Pipolo

“Open Roads: New Italian Cinema” runs June 1–7 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York.

Fig Leaves


Terry Zwigoff, Ghost World, 2001, 35 mm, color, sound, 111 minutes. Rebecca and Enid (Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch).

AMONG THE NEARLY EXTINCT COMMUNITY of classic jazz purists, my uncle was relatively well known. Working under John Hammond at Columbia Records in the early 1960s, he produced the seminal reissue LP King of the Delta Blues (1961), a compilation of ’30s recordings by Robert Johnson that, along with Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (1952) was a Rosetta Stone of the ’60s folk revival. His real love, however, was jazz, specifically early jazz—original Dixieland through the big-band swing era of the ’30s and early ’40s. He thought that bebop—the frenetic, highly improvisatory, small-band style of jazz pioneered by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the mid-’40s—killed the entire genre.

He was deadly serious about this, and he was not alone; such curmudgeonly, golden-age puritans were known as “moldy figs” in midcentury articles and discussions about modern jazz. On one of the few occasions that I met my uncle, I happened to be taking a jazz history class in college and, being vaguely aware of his prejudices, wanted to test their limits. Offering what I and many others consider to be the gateway drug of modern, post-bop jazz, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (1959)—a mellow, midtempo, conventionally beautiful and rather anodyne set—my uncle pulled a sour-milk grimace and blurted out, “Chinese music!”

Today, there are few moldy figs in the original jazz purist sense of the term, though an analogous pejorative, “rockist,” has taken hold in the past decade or so. A handful are still schlepping around, crates of dusty 78s in tow. Film director Terry Zwigoff is one, as is his friend and the subject of his best film (and one of the greatest documentaries about an artist), Robert “R.” Crumb, the cranky godhead of underground comics. Marked by an obsessive urge to collect old records and acquire arcane knowledge, along with a singular inability to relate to contemporary consumer culture and participate in the cheery, transactional Human Resources mode of modern social interaction, moldy figs—unpopular even in their era—have never been more out of fashion.

This is largely due to the internet, which has radically devalued the act of collecting, both in terms of objects (i.e., hard copies of bygone cultural artifacts) and specialized knowledge (connoisseurship, once admired and celebrated, has devolved into “knowing stuff makes you a snob,” as a friend of mine puts it). The low to nonexistent esteem granted to expertise, nostalgia, and obscurantism in twenty-first-century America makes the moldy fig an almost impossible figure, certainly an unwanted one. They are not welcome in a social-media environment where everyone is “connected” by means of “likes,” children are counseled to start developing their “brands” as soon as they leave the nursery, and predictably fraudulent vanity bonfires like the Fyre Festival actually attract large numbers of overpaying marks.

I mention this because, in addition to being a moldy fig himself, Zwigoff, as a director, is the preeminent living chronicler of moldy figs trapped in the modern world. Beginning with Louie Bluie (1985), an hour-long documentary about prewar ragtime mandolin and fiddle player Howard Armstrong, veteran of string bands and medicine shows still operating in a Reaganite America that has little time for eccentric, folksy relics like himself; peaking with Crumb (1994), in which the cartoonist’s famously bilious antipathy to modern life is revealed to be relatively normal and socially acceptable compared with the shut-in isolation of his two brothers, extraordinarily alienated bedsitters plagued by mental illness; and cresting with Ghost World (2001) and Art School Confidential (2006), two narrative film collaborations with comic artist Daniel Clowes, a GenX moldy fig of sorts, Zwigoff’s films can be boiled down to a line Crumb once wrote in a letter to a friend: “Your vigor for life appalls me.” (While acknowledging its charming degeneracy, I am eliding Bad Santa [2003], a successful black comedy and the most mainstream of Zwigoff’s films, in the name of Andrew Sarris and the auteur theory; it simply doesn’t fit with the rest.)

Terry Zwigoff, Crumb, 1994, 16 mm, color, sound, 119 minutes.

The Metrograph theater recently ran a Zwigoff retrospective, with the director present for questions after each screening, and I was eager to revisit his films to see how they would play in an era distinctly hostile to their concerns. They were largely as I remember them; none of them rose or sank significantly in my estimation. Crumb remains the standout, with Louie Bluie serving as a sweetly melancholic prelude to many of the later film’s themes, primary among them a longing for a sepia-toned, prelapsarian America that never really existed. The Clowes collaborations are consistent in tone but uneven in quality; Ghost World—a post-high-school coming-of-age tale based on Clowes’s graphic novel of the same title, featuring two female misfits growing apart in an unnamed, Sacramento-like city—is the far more effective and affecting movie.

Art School Confidential, a merciless satire of art colleges (partly based on Pratt, where Clowes was a student) that grafts a preposterous murder mystery onto a plotless, four-page Clowes strip from his comic Eightball, suffers because much of it was already done better in Enid’s summer art class in Ghost World (the cheaply feminist “tampon-in-a-teacup trick” was taken from Clowes’s original “Art School Confidential” strip). Indeed, one suspects that had Ghost World not been so lauded, Art School Confidential would never have been conceived, let alone made. It has all the failings of a sequel without actually being a sequel. (It could be called a sensibility sequel, analogous to the relationship between David Lynch’s Inland Empire [2006] and his earlier Mulholland Drive [2001], with all the aesthetic/thematic overkill that progression implies.)

Both Clowes collaborations include moldy figs as main characters: Steve Buscemi’s crotchety Seymour in Ghost World (based on Zwigoff and, to a lesser extent, Crumb) and Max Minghella’s impossibly innocent freshman Jerome in Art School Confidential (a rare example of a young moldy fig, who worships Picasso, insists on representational work, and has little sympathy for or understanding of postmodern art). Despite similarities to their creators, both characters are treated harshly and have their lives effectively destroyed (though Jerome attains a strange kind of fame at the price of his freedom). This is consistent with the special sort of self-loathing that haunts moldy figs: Unable to appreciate contemporary culture or engage in normal human relations, the moldy fig turns on himself, as evidenced by Crumb’s more self-lacerating strips where he appears as a character.

This can be harmful, even fatal. Crumb’s older brother Charles, who evinced a precocious talent for and obsession with drawing comics as a boy, particularly fan-fiction extensions of Treasure Island, was bullied by his explosive, domineering father and tough guys at school, eventually succumbing to schizophrenia and remaining a recluse for the rest of his life, living with his mother until he committed suicide in 1992. Robert Crumb credits Charles with inspiring him to become a cartoonist (partly by force when the boys were young). Crumb, which is dedicated to Charles and is almost as much about him as it is about Robert, contains the most chilling representation of the descent into mental illness I’ve ever seen. As he lost his grip on sanity, Charles’s self-drawn comics began to feature increasing amounts of text, the expanding word balloons crowding out the characters within the comic panels, eventually devolving into imageless graphomania, at first consisting of legible words but later just endless lines of squiggles.

According to Robert, when Charles was growing up, he would often deflate people and situations by saying, sarcastically, “How perfectly goddamned delightful it all is, to be sure,” which could serve as the moldy fig’s credo. Such negative, contrarian attitudes have been unfashionable for so long in American pop culture that I was worried that Zwigoff would never receive funding for another film, so I was heartened to hear that his pilot for Budding Prospects, an adaptation of T. C. Boyle’s novel about marijuana farming, became available for streaming in March on, irony of ironies,

Andrew Hultkrans

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 1. Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).

EUCALYPTUS TREES, WEAKENED BY DROUGHT, are on their last legs all over Los Angeles. One fell and knocked out the power lines next to my friend’s house, where I am staying, in Eagle Rock, and we stood on the deck drinking Vinho Verde––delicious, like if wine were beer––watching the action. A fire truck loitered for an hour, produced no helpers, and left. Disruption made the street its own neighborhood. Homeowners came out wondering, hands synchronized on hips. One man retrieved his digital camera and tripod and took commemorative photos. Another ambled the length of his driveway twice an hour to see what was up. For a few hours, nothing. Power trucks eventually came, two then three. My friend walked down to the street, tan and hot in a crop-top, to talk to the workers, but even she couldn’t inspire them to finish faster. I thought this was fine. The only problem, really, was that without working television, or internet, we were missing the West Coast premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return.

The light dimmed outside, and my friend and I read books by flashlight and candle. Flies that would normally stay by the window were drawn to the page, and I killed the first by whacking it against a coffee table with The History of Sexuality in paperback and the second by crushing it inside The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick. Its viridian dead body blotted out four or five letters of text in the story “Back Issues,” so that I may never know whether the New York Public Library is at Forty-Second or Forty-Seventh and Fifth. Finishing the Vinho Verde, my friend remembered that by siphoning her cellular connection, we could stream The Return, available via Showtime on Hulu and Amazon, without electricity. This inappropriate usage of data would cost something totally nuts per minute, but “whatever,” said my friend, and I had to agree.

To begin with, there was almost no sound. What there was for a score was, with one exception, diegetic, selected vagaries of the soundscape plucked and turned up to make a loose, spare derangement. Fans of the original Twin Peaks (1990–91), not to mention nonfans who also watched it, will remember that Angelo Badalamenti’s influence went way past the theme song, that adult lullaby, to disquiet the breezy scenes, make fun of sad ones, and build a fugue state throughout. Twenty-six years later, the theme remains, but nothing else plays. There are no sideways forays into jazz, no melodramatic crying jags, and few stabs at banter. The hell-bent silence makes the passage of time unbearable, like a subway ride without headphones, or a book, or a friend. Would I say that the first hour is slow? It is so slow that Stanley Kubrick watching it would start thinking about dinner.

David Lynch and Mark Frost, cocreators of Twin Peaks then and now, have said that the only scene flagged by the network in the very first episode, which aired on the American Broadcasting Company, was the one where Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), examining the body of a dead Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), took tweezers and dug deep under the empurpled nail of her ring finger to retrieve a miniature clue. A close-up on this procedure lasted fourteen seconds, which censors said was too long. It was perfect, yet in a technical sense the censors were correct: It was still TV. The basic differentiating formula for the best TV, or prestige TV, since the two aren’t synonymous, is film minus time. Films, when they’re great, improve on and proliferate life, which is why you don’t leave the cinema anxious about wasted hours, the way you do (I always do) after watching television no matter how good the show, and why it’s possible to watch episode after episode on Netflix or HBO Go without getting around to feeling uncomfortable or stopping to think. Some critics hold that television now is better than film, but though the average show on network television is cleverer, more inventive, more interesting than the average studio movie, suggesting that the best TV rivals the best new cinema, the medium which still represents the apotheosis of time taken and given, is rude and unacceptable unless you live in a town, like Twin Peaks, come to think of it, without a movie theater. All is to say: Lynch knows what he’s doing, and he’s doing the right thing when he calls The Return an eighteen-part film. Not a miniseries––nothing mini about it––and not episodic. To watch more than two episodes in a night would be like eating three cherry pies.

Lynch used to hate his show being interrupted by commercials, saying, Imagine if you were at the symphony and every fifteen minutes the music stopped and was interchanged with jingles, and a benefit of streaming is the optional elision of ads. Another cool feature is closed captioning, which on Hulu is customizable, ergo mine is neon lime with a glowed edge to match the titles and credits, and which on The Return gives us incredible, specific descriptors of sound and score. A line dialed by the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) isn’t ringing but “trilling.” Footsteps on tile in the Black Lodge are “odd reverberations.” Skin “crinkles.” In the anonymous woods are “whooshing sustains,” followed by, naturally, an “ominous tone.” But where technology gives godlike it takes away, and new problems show up in place of old ones, like the compression thinning the image-stream on a laptop so that the black ink and shadow flooding the screen turns silty instead of looking as meant: “Dark as pitch, as noir, as hate,” to quote Manohla Dargis in her review of Lynch’s last film, Inland Empire (2006).

There is almost no blue. Lynch banned blue-colored props from the set of Twin Peaks in the first season, maybe also the second. This contributed to a long sense of skylessness, redoubled here in The Return. We see only a pressed and dried cornflower blue, subdued further by dank cinematography. The blue stays in the background of Laura Palmer’s iconic school portrait, now displayed in a glass case with assorted trophies. The blue is matched on the bedroom walls of our new, female victim—well, her head is female, severed and floating atop the lumpen, tumescent body of a “male John Doe” (a funny redundancy, its specificity a comment on how the typical anonymous corpse belongs to a hot girl or a woman). There are stomach-dropping aerial shots of New York City and Las Vegas, two added locations that jar the expectation, the memory of Twin Peaks as existing on a map without a territory, but these are exclusive to night. The blue is matched again in the motel room where another woman dies.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 1. Darya and C (Nicole LaLiberte and Kyle MacLachlan). Photo: Suzanne Tenner/Showtime.

There are almost no not-white people. This will become more noticeable and weird as further scenes, with further and extra characters, unfold in those cities, but basically it is as it should be. Lynch specializes in a whiteness that slips from the norm, from seats of power, from centers that are traditionally but never essentially, exclusively white, to become whiteness per se. He doesn’t participate in the creeping normalization that tries to include everyone in a whiteness reconstituted as chill and that to some degree is always white-centric, and he doesn’t show us worlds where anyone, save teenagers bent on going to hell, would seek representation. Rare among major white artists, and almost impossibly, he appropriates whiteness in a manner all at once glib, unstudied, and tender, superficial and earnest, well-intentioned. This appropriative tendency is a huge and underrated part of what we mean when we say “Lynchian.” (In this Lynchianness no one excels more, more obviously, than Lana Del Rey.) Ditto his light grip on irony. Atypically for such a white American, he knows that irony is not sarcasm, is not really funny, and is never on purpose.

That Lynch is our guru and genius of white identity is one reason why I see so many fans and critics, and fans who are critics, all of them white, ask or demand that his works be held above and beyond interpretation. Yeah, I think. Nice try. The one near-definitive book on Lynch is by the critic and curator Dennis Lim, who doesn’t subject his taste to questions of either identity or identification, and who nonetheless has taken more care than most of his white peers to understand Lynch. This is an effect of Lim’s talent, and talent is always more or less selcouth, but it’s also no accident: One of the many things white people have refused to see about race is how we’re bound by our own, a refusal that makes us inadequate critics of our best representatives. Those fans and critics who, on the other hand, insist that things be explicable or that they alone have some answers are obviously wrongheaded. Less obvious is the problem: not that some viewers need everything to make sense, rather that they need things to be justified. Some things are simply not forgivable. The solution is not to mystify ignorance.

Besides, what we have here is an auteur who plays not with but to critics. Lynch teases, he tickles, he withholds relief and escape. He also holds out comfort in symbols and puns. He’s a lot like the other David (Cronenberg) in his twisted devotion to genre, his habit of making actors talk like they’re saying lines from other, lesser movies, and his hokey, dated special effects, stopping shy of “movie magic” and leaving spells broken, lying around. A serious dreamer, he welcomes without begging analysis, and takes analysts, even critics, seriously. The evidence of his generosity is that he doesn’t give his own interpretations. There are so many artists who think they can do my job. I let them. I like writing about art that leaves space. Take Lynch at his purest here, his lens hovering on Darya (Nicole LaLiberte), the newest of his uncanny valley dolls, in some anywhere motel during the last minute or two of her life as she goes from being hit in the face to getting shot in the head. Her heavy false eyelashes come unglued, lifting visibly from her natural lash line, in an exposure so slighting, cruel, and brief that you feel special, then guilty, for noticing it, though probably your noticing it is the point. Trompe l’œil, painted with a shaky, minatory hand, is the effect. Take Lynch at his most obvious in the scenes where a pretty young man is being paid to sit in a TriBeCa loft and watch an empty glass box, told only to wait for something, some image to materialize there. His crush comes over with lattes from the coffee shop where, in the guise of a junior ad executive, she works nights as a barista, and he tells her the loft belongs to “some anonymous billionaire.” “Oooh,” she goes. “Mysterious.” (Unnecessary emphasis hers.)

Twin Peaks, 1990–91, clip from a TV show on ABC. Season 2, episode 22. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).

One image appearing briefly in the glass box––a harbinger greeted, as it happens and has to happen, by no one––belongs to the man last seen as Cooper, trapped soul and body in the Black Lodge (long story) for the past twenty-five years. Cooper hasn’t been seen this side of limbo since, possessed by his prime suspect’s demon, he bashed his head into a mirror and asked how Annie was, though he did find time to change into a tux before leaving the dimension. Wandering earth is his doppelgänger, a heartless, successful criminal wearing Lenny Kravitz’s pants, a Samson-haired and literally strong-armed man (what is his arm made of, steel?), a killer who goes only by “C.” Lynch at his most moral: There are no antiheroes, only heroes who stand to be ruined rather than fall. There are no complications, no excuses, and as he prefers not to diagnose from the director’s chair, there are no pleas of insanity. (A doctor on the original Twin Peaks, opining that Leland Palmer has been driven to kill by madness, triggered by grief, is stopped right there by Special Agent Cooper: “Do you approve of murder, Doctor Hayward?”) This binary starring role for MacLachlan, taken into consideration with his quite prominent billing, over the alphabetical rest of the cast in the end credits, may or may not indicate that the fifty-eight-year-old actor is angling for what we might have to call a “MacLachlanaissance” (cf. Matthew McConaughey’s “McConnaissance,” which peaked with his bravura performance as the philosophical, reluctantly loved, eventually schizo Rusty on season one of HBO’s True Detective). The last we see of Monsieur C, he’s driving what appears to be a 1989 Lincoln Continental (cf. Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln ads), hearse-black inside and outside, back to where he belongs.

The first we see of Twin Peaks in The Return is a lonesome clearing in the woods, and a red truck backing into a gravel driveway as smoothly as if it were shot in forward motion and reversed in post. Doctor Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) emerges at the door of a derelict trailer home and takes off a pair of shades to reveal another pair, one red lens, one blue, a joke about what—shadiness, layers, the third dimension? A joke about being Lynchian. The driver lifts boxes from the truck, and from the boxes brings objects seen only as shapes, wrapped in plastic. He asks the doc how he’s doing. “Good as ever,” says the doc. Not a joke, a fact about being here.

Five minutes before the end of the second hour, my friend’s laptop died, and mine, too, proved dead. The last thing we saw was Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) looking at James Hurley (James Marshall) as the Chromatics, live at the Bang Bang Bar, play a song about darkness. “James is still cool,” Shelly says. “James has always been cool.” I could honestly have cried. Outside the house, the men in orange hats worked overtime under temporary lights.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Sarah Nicole Prickett’s individual recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:

Episodes 3 & 4
Episode 5
Episodes 6 & 7
Episode 8
Episodes 9 & 10
Episodes 11 & 12
Episodes 13, 14, & 15
Episode 16
Episodes 17 & 18 (January 2018)

Twin Peaks: The Return premiered on May 21. It runs Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.

Bruce LaBruce, The Misandrists, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 91 minutes.

“I ALWAYS THOUGHT A PUNK was someone who took it up the ass,” William S. Burroughs once said, and no one has coupled the sodomite with the transgressive hellion more riotously than the Canadian filmmaker, self-styled “pornographic philosopher,” writer, and all-around queer rake Bruce LaBruce. Cruise the freak scene of his collected works with their populations of zombie teens, skinheads, and deranged auteurs (remember LaBruce as the drug-addled hero of Super 8 ½ [1994], guzzling cocktails in his Butthole Surfers T-shirt?), and discover an artist at once contemptuous of the hopelessly defanged contemporary gay life and dedicated to deviant fun in his explorations of whatever’s deemed taboo. LaBruce scored a sex scene in Hustler White (codirected with Rick Castro, 1996) with the eerie, AIDS-haunted bell tolls of Coil’s “Tainted Love” and adapted Pierrot Lunaire (2011) by turning the opera’s moonstruck clown-hero into a transman adrift in an Expressionist underworld. And in his new flick, The Misandrists (2017), he throws scarifying footage of a vaginoplasty to prove nobody’s transition from male to female is ever smooth.

A rude delight about a coven of feisty lesbian terrorists, The Misandrists is a cinematic Molotov cocktail mixing screwball comedy, hard-core sex, and radical politics to explosive effect. It’s also a total hoot. With their succubus charm, the movie’s posse would’ve been down with Valerie Solanas’s SCUM. Awesome Ursula (Serenity Rosa), the ex-junkie whose look is half-extraterrestrial, half–hungry wolf (shorn brows, fur wardrobe, eyes ringed purple), cuddles up to Editha (Lo-Fi Cherry, who keeps LaBruce’s predilection for skinheads alive) as they wisecrack about trashing patriarchy: “Men are the pigs of this world!” “Leave pigs out of this!” Their homeland is known as “Ger(wo)many,” since Big Mother (Susanne Sachsse, strutting with regal hauteur on a prosthetic leg) considers any hint of manliness counterrevolutionary. The gang’s scheme is to shoot girl-on-girl porn that will reduce all men to powerless jackasses and thus allow women of the world to unite and take over, but the gynocratic fantasy is threatened when Isolde (star transwoman Kita Updike) falls for a wounded soldier and hides him in the attic.

LaBruce’s obvious delight in the eccentricities of his leading ladies is proof that his work is never about encouraging dudes to, uh, spank the hog. Rather it’s a brainy subversion of pornography’s laws. The Misandrists includes scenes from LaBruce’s short Ulrike’s Brain (2017), where Ms. Meinhof’s undead cerebellum barks proclamations at a dominatrix through a vocoder. If the prologue featuring two nymphets dressed in fetching uniforms and knee-high socks mid-frolic in a field lands us in the drool-encrusted domain of straight-boy fantasies, the postscript—in which Isolde smooches a blonde angel at dawn—slyly fucks with the formula. LaBruce mimics the hazy textures of 1970s erotica, but Isolde discloses that she “just happen[s] to have a cock,” and her boo used to be the boy she was keeping secret. The girls have an epic pillow fight, but their Cinemax-ready slumber party is ghosted by dreams of a revolutionary past—the preteen anarchists played the same game in Jean Vigo’s Zéro pour Conduite (1933).

By ditching testosterone for estrogen, LaBruce finds himself in cahoots with the all-girl spirit of entertainment right now, much as he detected the resonances of the zombie in Otto, or Up with Dead People (2008) precisely when being undead went totally viral. It’s the era of the gender-swap remake of Ghostbusters (2016) and the forthcoming version of Splash in which Channing Tatum will play a merman. Even if these XX reactivations are the products of corporate sloth, their existence owes something to the mainstreaming of trans life in the past decade, since they depend, Orlando-like, on the disorientation created by gender reassignment. The Misandrists obeys porn’s rules and concludes, amid oozy bodies and slurping tongues, with an orgy, but ups the polymorphous delirium: Trans heroines cavort with glamour-pusses licked by girls who look like boys.

Anybody could shake their rump to The Misandrists’s sassy disavowal of the “normal,” not only within porn’s kingdom but elsewhere. That’s the fun of the whole thing, but it’s also where philosophy sneaks into the bedroom. Scholarly ruffians might want to invoke Genet to explain the consequences for LaBruce’s audience (joy, freaking out), but those goth minxes from Super 8 ½, Jane and Wednesday Friday, beat them to it long ago, condensing and translating his works into another kind of punk vernacular that everybody in The Misandrists would understand when they purr, “We don’t just fuck their bodies, we fuck their minds.”

Charlie Fox

Stephen Cone, Princess Cyd, 2016, digital video, color, sound, 96 minutes.

WALKING OUT OF BALTIMORE’S NEWLY RESTORED PARKWAY THEATER, I was in a daze after having watched a 35-mm print of Agnès Varda’s magnificent Vagabond (1985)—the first time analog film had been shown in the building in more than forty years. I then stumbled into a neighboring McDonald’s and queued up behind a slim older gentleman clad in head-to-toe Comme des Garçons who just happened to be the director of Pink Flamingos (1972). It is on the occasion of such pure strikes of Stendhal syndrome that having devoted one’s life to cinema seems like a not entirely worthless undertaking.

I had been twice before to the Maryland Film Festival, which over the course of its nineteen years has become something of a beacon to American independent filmmakers, particularly those based on the eastern seaboard. For those lay moviegoers not inclined to brave the tribulations of Sundance or the unendurable spiritual degradation that is South by Southwest, Maryland—that’s MdFF for short—offers, across five days, an actually curated slate that contains most of what you’d actually want to have seen at those other festivals in the first place.

Consequently, MdFF doesn’t place much priority on premieres, though there are usually a few. This year, for example, there was Stephen Cone’s Princess Cyd and, of lasting material benefit to the festival, the Parkway complex—officially the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Film Center, named for the Athens-based philanthropic organization that donated a cool $5 million to the restoration of the circa 1915 cinema.

Located on the corner of North Charles and North Avenue in what has been branded the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, the Parkway was a showpiece cinema based on a Coventry Street theater in London and opened by Baltimore impresario Henry Webb in the year of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. In later years—from 1956 to 1978 it was the Five West Art Theatre—the building followed a familiar trajectory for downtown cinemas in the years of white flight, going from art house to porno theater to crumbling ruin, in this case adding in a tenure as a Korean grocery, for good measure. When I received a tour of the Parkway’s auditorium shortly after MdFF had bought the building from the city for a purely nugatory fee, it looked like a ruined husk that you’d expect to have been burned down under suspect circumstances years ago. Now it’s open for yearlong programming, both repertory and first-run, with two smaller, purpose-built cinemas supplementing the four-hundred-plus seat big house, which has been brought back, balcony and all, by architect Steve Ziger with no attempt to erase the years of wear and tear: The top of the proscenium arch remains broken, and most of the oval panels on the walls are still vacant, only two bearing faded Rococo revival pastoral scenes. The sightlines are good, the aisles broad, and the achieved ramshackle effect is not altogether unlike that obtained by the Harvey Theater at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I pronounce it altogether a very satisfying place to watch a film, and yet another hopeful indication of the appearance of a viable new theatrical model after a dispiriting couple of decades.

Of course some Baltimoreans may harbor fears that their city might someday turn into Brooklyn—nobody wants that, including most Brooklynites—and such a prominent addition to the neighborhood was bound to draw scrutiny, hence an article in last week’s City Paper that allowed various long-term residents to voice concerns about the Parkway’s impact on the community’s ecosystem. And analyzing the demographic engineering of Charm City, with its racially rigged history, also happens to be the subject matter of the most prominent Baltimorean film, which played MdFF after appearances at Locarno, True/ False, and Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real: Theo Anthony’s Rat Film (2016).

Theo Anthony, Rat Film, 2016, digital video, color, sound, 82 minutes.

A kind of trash-can city symphony, Baltimore-based Anthony’s film keeps hold of several disparate threads that relate to his hometown’s rat population and various attempts to curb it, but that also—both obliquely and then overtly—touch on the deliberate segregation of the city through both government and private interference, which created pockets of endemic poverty that have been left to fester for a century and more. Anthony moves briskly between contemporary footage of Baltimore’s professional and amateur rat catchers; dissertations on several historical efforts in pest control by researchers at Johns Hopkins University as dispassionately described by automaton narrator Maureen Jones; and analog and digital maps of Baltimore, drawing parallels between human behavior and that of the cornered Norway rat. (Shades of Alain Resnais’s Mon oncle d’Amérique [1980] here.) The metaphor gets a little snarled, the utopian-apocalyptic conclusion worked for me not at all, and a digression into Frances Lee’s crime dioramas seems like an instance of the director—also acting as his own cinematographer and editor—being unable to kill his darlings. But for at least several sustained passages the fleetness of the cross connections made was enough to convince me that I was dealing with an exciting young filmmaker with a deft, limber mind and a style to match.

The best movie I saw at MdFF, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Vagabond, which upon review seems easily one of the greatest films of the 1980s—funny and unsentimental and unfathomably sad. Watching the conclusion, in which Sandrine Bonnaire’s exhausted drifter sinks down in a vineyard ditch and gives up the ghost, there to die of exposure as already preordained by the film’s Citizen Kane–esque inquest-and-flashback structure, I thought of some lines from François Mauriac’s 1923 novel Génitrix which have always troubled me: “There was no tear-stained face for her to leave behind, nothing to mark for her this slipping into the shadows. She died quietly, as those who are unloved.”

No less tough, if lacking Vagabond’s occasional leavening cloud breaks, is Werewolf (2016), the feature debut of Ashley McKenzie shot in the director’s hometown of Cape Breton in the northeast reaches of Nova Scotia, a scenic summer destination which also enjoys Canada’s highest unemployment rate and an out-of-control opiate epidemic. Andrew Gillis and Breagh MacNeil, two of the most translucently pale Caucasians I’ve ever seen, costar as ex-addicts whose tab at the methadone clinic is hardly covered by their door-to-door lawn-mowing service. The movie is distinguished by McKenzie’s almost monomaniacal head-down focus on minutiae, her attempt to tell a story through a collection of process-based sequences—the daily routine at the clinic gradually gives way to the MacNeil character’s job at a soft-serve ice-cream place, broken down into the component parts of a crap job, with the rumble of hand-grinding Oreo cookie bits taking on a particularly ominous quality.

Nathan Silver has tended toward a nerve-jangling, vérité-informed style in his previous improv-based productions, which have appeared with unnerving regularity since 2012’s Exit Elena, but Thirst Street (2017), which arrived at MdFF after a Tribeca premiere, is an animal that looks and moves rather differently, shot in anamorphic widescreen and splashed in theatrical gels. Lindsay Burdge, who recently appeared as Lindsay Burdge in Silver’s Actor Matrinez (2016), here plays a flight attendant who begins to recover from the emotional devastation of her lover’s suicide only when she finds a new preoccupation, a skeevy strip-club bartender played by Damien Bonnard. She clings to him, barnacle-like, in the aftermath of a one-night stand, dropping everything to take a job at the club (presided over by the director Jacques Nolot, in a hysterical cartoon of Gallic contempt) and an apartment across the way from that of her beloved. The premise, stretched nearly to the point of snapping, owes something to François Truffaut’s Antoine et Colette (1962), while the stained-glass and neon palette reflects cinematographer Sean Price Williams’s stint on a Locarno jury with director Dario Argento. Now would be as good a time as any to confess a friendly acquaintance with the involved talent here, as well as feeling a powerful ambivalence toward every new film of Silver’s. And I think this is the desired effect: With the willfully lurid suicide scene, the intrusion of Anjelica Huston’s case-study narration, and, above all, the spacey opacity of Burdge’s performance, which has more than a touch of Julie Hagerty to it, Thirst Street rejects every entry to empathy, a real pebble-in-the-sock agitation.

Nathan Silver, Thirst Street, 2017, digital video, color, sound, 83 minutes.

If Silver’s worldview might best be described as comic-grotesque, Cone’s is generous to a fault. When Princess Cyd comes to a scene of violent confrontation, Cone lingers only long enough to show a few frames of hands on a throat, and in a way his aversion to high-pitched conflict is as radical as Silver’s compulsion to goad, irritate, frustrate, and confound. Cone’s latest is set in the leafy suburbs of his adopted hometown of Chicago and concerns an extended visit by sixteen-year-old Cyd (Jessie Pinnick, excellent) to her novelist aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence). during which Cyd develops a growing interest in Miranda’s circle of friends—mostly middle-class Christian humanists with various connections to the arts—and explores her budding sexuality with both girls and boys, and gingerly prods at the old wound of her mother’s death. It’s a movie I felt tenderly toward even as I couldn’t help but wish Cone was willing to draw a little blood, but then maybe he wouldn’t be himself if he did. It is for the presence of real individuals that a festival like the one they throw down in Baltimore is to be prized.

The Maryland Film Festival ran May 3–7 in Baltimore, MD.

Nick Pinkerton

Chris Burden, Through the Night Softly, 1973. Photo: Charles Hill.
In Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey, Burden, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 88 minutes.

A PRIMER ON THE WORK of the West Coast artist of the title—first name, Chris—Richard Dewey and Timothy Marrinan’s documentary Burden is well-researched but short on context. Piecing together video documentation of both the confrontational performance works that made Burden the most notorious artist of the 1970s and the intricately fabricated, often magically beautiful sculpture that he began to produce in the 1980s until he died in 2015, the filmmakers leave the commentary largely to Burden himself. Fortunately, he is articulate and seriously witty both in archival footage and in interviews recorded specifically for this film in and around his Topanga Canyon studio in 2014.

Burden insisted that his pieces were sculpture, including those he made in the first half of the ’70s, in which material elements were eclipsed by the performances that defined them in space and time. In Five Day Locker Piece, 1971, his MFA thesis at the University of California, Irvine, and the first of many pieces to apply the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic of risk to his own body, Burden scrunched himself into a four-by-four-by-five-inch metal locker, where he remained for five days. The locker had been altered so that he could access jugs of water in the locker above and piss into a bucket in the locker below. Something of the connection of art and science, which Burden admired in Renaissance art, was mapped into the Rube Goldberg–like inner structure of the three lockers, but at the time that aspect of the work made less of an impression than the torture Burden inflicted on himself.

All that remains of Five Day Locker Piece and the even more notorious works that followed—among them Shoot, 1971, Doorway to Heaven, 1973, and Trans-fixed, 1974—are some still photos and a few seconds of video or Super 8 film. To confirm the works’ importance, the filmmakers call upon some of Burden’s most successful contemporaries and teachers to appraise them in one or two sentences. Since no one has the time to say much of anything, a viewer who knows nothing of Burden’s work or this period of feverish activity in performance and body art across the world, might come away thinking that Burden was sui generis. It’s not until Vito Acconci shows up to comment—forty years after the fact—on Kunst Kick, 1974, in which Burden had someone kick him down a flight of stairs at the Basel Art Fair, that one might consider that these two artists, though working on opposite coasts, were stunningly in sync throughout their careers, even in that they both hit a wall in using their own bodies for performance in the mid-’70s and turned instead to hybrid forms of sculpture and architecture.

Burden is invaluable, and even moving, when it focuses on the artist’s late works, some of which are site-specific. Burden’s first major museum retrospective was not in Los Angeles but at New York’s New Museum in 2013. What could not be included was Urban Light, 2008, the permanent installation of antique street lamps arranged as densely as a forest and now lit by solar power. That it is a visionary work of Apollonian beauty is evident even from the movie’s paltry images. The illumination here is from the discussion by Burden and some of his assistants, which is also the case with Burden’s final, similarly transcendent work, Ode to Santos Dumont, 2015, a forty-foot-long oval-shaped polyurethane balloon that flies in large circles through the air, powered by helium and a small gas motor. Named for the Brazilian aviator who flew a small dirigible around the Eiffel Tower, it was first shown by LACMA just after Burden’s death. He had lived long enough to see the piece tested, and as an assistant relays in the film, he felt in his entire being the moment when the motor cut out and the balloon continued to fly. Burden may be light on art history, but it does suggest the transformation of the artist’s work from the body confined to the spirit released and taking flight.

Amy Taubin

Burden runs through Thursday, May 11, at the Metrograph in New York.

Laura Poitras, Risk, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 95 minutes. Julian Assange.

“INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE.” This cyberpunk maxim, originally uttered by Whole Earth Catalog publisher Stewart Brand in conversation with Apple’s Steve Wozniak at the 1984 Hackers Conference, rarely comes up in discussions of the character and motivations of Julian Assange, the editor in chief and global face of WikiLeaks. Assange has been an activist “publisher” for so long now that it is frequently forgotten he was originally a hacker—a very sophisticated one. Operating under the pseudonym Mendax from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Assange successfully cracked the US Department of Defense and various US military branches, as well as top defense contractors, major multinational corporations, and other high-value targets. He was finally arrested for these activities in Australia, his native country, in 1994. He pleaded guilty to twenty-five charges but was released with a slap on the wrist, partly due to his apparent lack of malice or profit motive.

I mention this because whether you currently think Assange is an unimpeachable hero, the leader of a “hostile intelligence service,” a Kremlin stooge, or merely an irritating megalomaniac with great hair, his original mission of radical transparency has deep roots in the hacker community. Books advancing arguments resonant with Assange’s initial stance—David Brin’s The Transparent Society (1998) and Amitai Etzioni’s The Limits of Privacy (1999)—circulated as the first dot-com bubble inflated. Indeed, it was not immediately apparent in WikiLeaks’s early years that Assange was taking a specific political position on his leaks (other than “institutional corruption must be exposed,” which is Hacktivism 101). In recent years, however, with a few exceptions, nearly all of WikiLeaks’s releases have been at the expense of the US government. Assange and his representatives maintain that they only publish what is submitted to WikiLeaks and have no control over where the leaks come from, but it is difficult to shake the feeling that Assange has settled on the US as the Main Enemy in his campaign for global justice.

While there is no doubt that the US military and intelligence services have done and continue to do horrible things around the world, often to serve the more underhanded needs of the nation’s private sector (otherwise known as “American interests”), one does not have to be a Hillary Clinton fan or supporter to note the extreme personal animus Assange holds for her and the Democratic Party. Both are corrupt and in the pocket of Wall Street and multinational corporations––partly thanks to the infinite wisdom of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision––but no more so than most sitting politicians from both parties, including Donald Trump, who is ushering in the type of family-based oligarchic kleptocracy usually associated with second-tier former Soviet states and tin-pot dictatorships in Africa and Latin America.

Since the release of the flawed Assange biopic The Fifth Estate (2013), which appeared in the wake of sexual-assault allegations leveled against Assange by two Swedish women in 2010, but especially since WikiLeaks’s role in the 2016 US presidential election, Assange’s reputation, never saintly to begin with, has become increasingly questionable. His unctuous, condescending manner, Mona Lisa smile, and air of smug self-satisfaction have not helped in this regard. Unlike Edward Snowden, with whom Assange is often associated in the public imagination and who is frequently criticized on the same grounds, Assange really does seem like a self-dealing narcissist with a messianic complex. Snowden remains a socially awkward, self-deprecating Boy Scout, a nerdy Dudley Do-Right; he repeatedly insists that the numerous debates he started by releasing the NSA archives are not and should not be “about him,” and this is credible. It is hard to say the same of Assange, who basks in the spotlight of global attention like a pampered lap cat. If I were asked to guess the one man in this world who could naturally purr, I would name Assange.

Laura Poitras, Risk, 2016, HD video, color, sound, 95 minutes. Julian Assange.

A scene in Laura Poitras’s new Assange documentary, Risk, which debuted at Cannes last year in a substantially different version, illustrates this perfectly. Amid a milling crowd of demonstrators, police, and curious passersby, Assange is shown arriving, on foot, at his 2011 extradition hearing in London. The shot, from above, seems to cast a strange glow on Assange; he is brighter and more colorful than the masses surrounding him, and his facial expression radiates a serene, almost unearthly sense of satisfaction, as if this were the moment he had been waiting for all his life—all eyes on him, the world at his feet.

During this sequence, Poitras cuts in a voice-over from her production diary: “This is not the film I thought I was making. I thought I could ignore the contradictions. I thought they were not part of the story. I was so wrong. They’re becoming the story.” She is referring to the Swedish sexual assault allegations and Assange’s responses to them, which are fleshed out in the film, much to Assange’s detriment. In a scene with the female lawyers who are representing him in the case, Assange condescendingly dismisses the Swedish women’s accusations as coming from a “tawdry radical feminist perspective,” adding that they will be “reviled” in court (presumably for hampering the imminent arrival of the Second Coming). The lawyers regard him incredulously, one rolling her eyes; their request that he not appear “insensitive” to the Swedish women is a bridge too far for Assange. Poitras has publicly acknowledged that she and Assange no longer speak, and this is likely due to her inclusion of this scene in the film. (It was in the 2016 Cannes edit that Assange saw, which was generally more favorable to him.)

While it’s clear that the Swedish episode gave Poitras pause in her assessment of Assange, as it would any woman, the real impetus for her significant revisions to the film were the multiple sexual-assault allegations later made against hacktivist and former Tor Project developer Jacob Appelbaum, Poitras’s friend, colleague, and, as she reveals in the film, former lover. In the wake of this imbroglio, Poitras decided to reedit the film to incorporate unavoidable issues of gender and power in activist communities. The result is a fascinating, ambiguous, multifaceted portrait of Assange, an extremely complicated, often maddening man whose efforts have added even more uncertainty to an already dicey period of world history.

Risk is a far richer documentary than Poitras’s Oscar-winning Citizenfour (2014), about Snowden, partly because it covers a longer period and involves many more locations, but largely because of the personality differences between Snowden and Assange. The NSA whistleblower’s case invites moral and ethical interpretations; Assange and WikiLeaks cry out for psychological ones. Poitras seems aware of this. In another production diary voice-over, she says, “With this film, the lines have become very blurred. Sometimes I can’t believe what Julian allows me to film. Ego, yes. But also brave. He’s managing his image, but also being vulnerable. It’s a mystery to me why he trusts me because I don’t think he likes me.”

Nowhere is the nexus of Poitras’s curiosity and Assange’s peculiarity in sharper relief than in a bizarre scene in a darkened London hotel room, where Assange physically disguises himself for his initial asylum-seeking trip to the Ecuadorian embassy as his mother and other supporters whisper in the other room. Right before he departs, his mother holds up a note to him that reads “I love you. Money?”—an offer one might make to a twelve-year-old. Mother and son high-five as he leaves the room.

When Assange was young, his mother became romantically involved with Leif Meynell, a member of the Australian cult the Family, and eventually had Meynell’s son. Consistent with the cult’s dynamics, Meynell was a hypercontrolling man from whom Assange and his mother frequently fled, only to be doggedly pursued to their new location. It is easy to see how this type of childhood would lead to a persecution complex, with Meynell and the Family providing early rehearsals for Assange’s cat-and-mouse games with Clinton and the US intelligence community.

In one of Risk’s oddest scenes, Assange is interviewed inside the Ecuadorian embassy by Lady Gaga, who comes off as a supercilious idiot, primarily concerned with getting Assange to bitch about his confinement as if he were a spoiled celebrity on Dlisted. Assange responds, “I’m not a normal person . . . I don’t care how I feel.” Poitras’s film, very much worth seeing even if you despise Assange, says otherwise. Rarely has the personal seemed more political than in the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Andrew Hultkrans

Laura Poitras’s Risk opens across the US on Friday, May 5.