Sunday, June 5, 2022

David Cronenberg's "Crimes of the Future" at SIFF Cinema: Jun 3 - 23

When the competition and program for this year's Cannes Film Festival was announced, it read like "The Alpha Auteurs Lining Up for a Post-Lockdown Party", as The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw put it. Among them, it was as though "David Cronenberg has Practically Become Bionic Now", with his newest work as a expansion and summation of his decades-spanning volume of film that pushed the conceptual and sensory relationship to the body, by delivering us his "Post-Pain, Post-Sex Body Horror Sensation", that is "Crimes of the Future". There's a logic to Cronenberg first conceiving the film's premise at the end of the 20th century; in which humankind has spontaneously mutated to generate new organs and alter itself in response to a changing toxic and synthetic environment. Among the other byproducts of this not-too-distant future is that the human body has become so changed, and amorphous, that pain is nearly extinct. It was that era, from the mid-1990s to the earliest 2000s that Cronenberg most clearly defined his brand of cerebral, carnal cinema, expanding on the initial plumbing of the future-body seen in "Videodrome" and "Dead Ringers", the decade before. Through a set of films, David Cronenberg fleshed out his preoccupations with the human body and the ways in which it would come to intersect with the social mechanisms and advanced technology of the modern world. The underground society of deviant sybarites, where machinery and injured appendages collide in “Crash”, and the mind deranging high stakes enhanced-reality gaming of “eXistenZ", both felt disturbingly prescient, and feature an unnerving, and enticing eroticism that draws you into their Ballardian intellectual premises.

Set in a haunted post-collapse Athens that troublingly mirrors the darkened, waste strewn streets, and huddled figures occupying the shadows of many of the major cities of the world during the current coronavirus pandemic, much of "The Horror, the Horror of Crimes of the Future", dedicates itself to talky context-building exposition. Attentive to the intricacies of cultural labor, and the appetites, needs and utility that would arise from a wholly different relationship to the body where people cut each other in public "desktop surgeries", Cronenberg envisions a shift in the human paradigm with new bureaucracies, artistic, and political mores. Much of the film is dedicated to the workings of this world, making for one of his densest, dialog-heavy and sometimes pedantic, overtly literal outings. But "Crimes of the Future" eschews these trappings by offering instead a kind of intellectual road map of these existential questions, and two guides to its future terrain in performance artists, Saul Tenser and his co-creator and lover, Caprice. Together, the duo have spun the process of these body-altering surgeries into a performative exhibition. Perhaps making sense of his transforming body, and expunging its unwanted futuristic developments, the mystical and sensitive Saul, and the sophisticated and savvy Caprice, are making sense of this new world in which they tenuously exist. Together they are spinning narrative and meaning amidst a sweeping upheaval of form and a time of volatile unpredictability. The film posits that this might be the highest calling of art in such times, and an opportunity to inquire isn't missed in the "Film Comment Interview: David Cronenberg on Crimes of the Future".