OTTAWA’S CINEMA FOR INTERNATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT MOVIES

Cosmopolis

Based on the novel by Don DeLillo

Poster art for CosmopolisThere’s no way David Cronenberg could have known – could he? – but in Cosmopolis, the master of body horror has engineered a kind of cinematic stem cell from which all of the other films at Cannes this year might have been cultured. This is a steely, chillingly topical adaptation of Don DeLillo’s satirical novel about Eric Packer, a young billionaire fund manager who spends a day being driven across midtown New York to visit his hairdresser. At the same time, he watches his personal and business fortunes go up in smoke due to the unexpected rise of the yuan, a crucial irregularity that Packer failed to spot.

At its heart is a sensational central performance from Robert Pattinson – yes, that Robert Pattinson – as Packer. Pattinson plays him like a human caldera; stony on the surface, with volcanic chambers of nervous energy and self-loathing churning deep below.

As Packer’s journey slowly progresses he meets friends, business associates and his young wife Elise (Sarah Gadon). A doctor gives Packer his daily check-up in the back of the car, which involves a rather intimate personal examination. ‘You have an asymmetrical prostate,’ he says, and Packer looks perplexed.

This goads Packer into a kind of nihilistic audit of his own psyche, and later his body, testing himself as he would a financial market; finding its limits, looking for patterns, guarding against irregularities. Much of the action takes place in the limousine itself, which Cronenberg styles as a kind of airtight cocoon that glides silently through the city and is run from a bank of blue-glowing, ‘Star Trek’ panels.

Inside, Packer can access everything he needs: market data, food, alcohol, sex, a toilet. No exterior noise makes its way in, even when at one point he is caught up in an anticapitalist protest, and a giant, Chinese dragon-like rat puppet starts buffeting the limo. The mob hammers silently on the windows, and Packer sips another vodka. It’s a smart inversion of Cronenberg’s 1999 film eXistenZ: rather than being umbilically connected to a virtual world, Packer is hermetically sealed off from the real one.

Cronenberg’s script is often oblique, and the film is talky and evasive – heaven knows what Pattinson’s Twilight fanbase will make of it. But its portrayal of civilization as an impossibly intricate, crucially flawed equation, about to buckle and snap, is sinuously compelling.

– Robbie Collin, The Daily Telegraph

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