No film, until "Citizenfour" has managed to set itself within the real room with the real history-makers at the very time when they changed the world. It is a film that feels immediate and dangerous. Our emotions are not manipulated by dramatic technique injecting tension, rather the filmmaking compliments the yet-tangible crisis. These events are still enfolding following people who are still being targeted by the most powerful state on Earth. There is no actor playing Edward Snowden, creating the illusion of his nervousness, paranoia, and excitement. This is Edward Snowden himself on camera, feeling those emotions. "Citizenfour" transcends rote filmmaking, this is a pure historical source.
Most of "Citizenfour" takes place in a hotel room, with three people sharing the crampt space. Snowden himself mostly stays sprawled on the white bed, while reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill take shifts between using the one chair and standing. This room is a basic white zone of tasteful mild - the kind of generic slightly-above-average temporary bedroom that could be found in any city on the globe. The first interviews have that forced awkward quality you would expect from people meeting for the very first time, but as time moves and the momentousness of their discussion grows, a bond is formed. They nervously smile with the knowledge they are starting a battle against terrifying people of unimaginable power. Even in this isolated room, their enemies could be listening. Big Brother, long-awaited and long-feared, is now here.
It will be impossible to judge "Citizenfour" objectively as a film on a technical level while ignoring the political elements. This is a movie entirely about a very controversial topic whose discourse is still evolving - basically what I'm saying is that I'm going to piss people off here by taking a side. Those who consider Snowden to be a dangerous traitor will find little to enjoy in director Laura Poitras's critical portrait of the National Security Agency at the height of its powers. Poitras is not an unbiased observer, she clearly supports what Snowden is trying to do. It is for that exact reason that he reached out to her in the first place allowing her camera to be right on the fault line of history's shift. For those who believe in what Snowden has done - myself being part of that crowd just to give full disclosure - will find this a existentially terrifying cyberchase through the incredible reach of the NSA. It is a startling wake-up for the chilling world we have come to live in.
|The most wanted human being on the planet, ladies and gentlemen.|
The twenty-nine year old contractor has been described by some in the government as little more than a "low-level analyst" yet he speaks with an authority far beyond this claim of mediocrity. Edward is supremely confident of his convictions and more confident in his job of stealing a treasure trove of intelligence files, unleashing a clear picture of the sheer scale and power of the US government's intrusion into the entire world. This is the key act of the film, an extraordinary view of Edward Snowden's personality and demeanor - and even his uncertainty of his future - right while revealing incredible truths during an eight day interview. The force of the revelation strike down like lightning, history smashing down in a single little movie, launched by a lone skinny White programmer.
Snowden is a man of his generation: more a childish nerd rather than a villainous mastermind or even pure handsome hero. He knows exactly what he is doing, why he is doing it, and where his strategy is going to lead. He purposefully crafted this meeting and his high-profile status as a media manipulation. Hong Kong was picked because of its ambiguous legal status and complex extradition position. The former spook wanted to "become the story" focusing media attention on him and his sacrifice of his freedoms, adding a human dimension to this tale. He is willing to accept his normal life ending, turning into a symbol of resistance. Despite his claims of reluctance at abandoning his girlfriend and family for this nightmare, I can't help but think Snowden is excited, if not even joyful. He knows that this meeting could end in the worst way, however his eyes cannot be bright from the prospect of a new unknown adventure before him.
|Snowden just seems like a cool guy to be around. If I'm ever in Moscow I should get a beer with him.|
Then after the news has broken, Snowden is gone from the documentary. Laura Poitras abruptly disappears him from her exactly as the man disappeared from the face of the Earth to hide from the laws of the United States. While supposedly free, the charming character of Snowden that we have come to know has been swallowed whole by his fugitive status. The final act of the film deals directly with the impact this eruption of leaks has had on the other leakers, as they all tactfully decide to avoid North America for awhile**. Yet, even as events continue to unfold in rapid pace, one cannot help feel a disconnect. Snowden has been introduced as a star, the hero of this story, and abruptly we have been cut off from him.
"Citizenfour" continues to make its point through its conclusion. We are finally reunited with Snowden as he lives within the warm embrace of the great democratic state of Russia, living with his girlfriend in one of the film's big reveals. Snowden hangs with Glenn Greenwald who slips him a sheet of paper, revealing truths beyond even the citizenfour's paygrade. And that is where the film ends. With the story clearly unfinished. History continues to push forward, leaving the fates of every character in the drama uncertain and unfinished.
|At last until "Citizenfour 2: Cyperpunk Boogaloo" comes out.|
There is a chilling implication to "Citizenfour". Leaving the theater left me all the more paranoid, as if just watching the film had marked me for extra scrutiny and watch. We can be glad that the US government is still reasonable enough to allow public dissent to be published (unlike other more idiotic regimes who cannot tolerate even stupid comdies) but otherwise little in "Citizenfour" should make you proud to be American, or pleased with our government's deranged path. Posting this review where I am nothing but critical of the NSA's methods might even add me onto some watchlist, assuming the government can be bothered to read this blog. Well, if there is a spook following all my online activities now, hopefully they're enjoying the porn, and not too bored by all my reddit NFL browsing.
And you know, I'm the egotistical sort, so I can look at the bright side here: It's always great to have another reader. Glad to have you, NSA dude.
* Trademark Eric "BH" Fuchs, 2014.
** Laura Poitras edited the film in Berlin, rather than allow the raw footage to be captured by customs officials while entering the United States. (As you should know, the Bill of Rights ends at exactly the US borders, but the intelligence community is universal, so they can search and seize any of your belongings with impunity.) When I saw "Citizenfour" back in October during the New York Film Festival, it was the very time it had ever been screened for any audience.