Following his 2014 Hollywood satire, Maps to the Stars, legendary Canadian film director David Cronenberg seemed intent on retiring from active filmmaking due to apparent difficulty in obtaining financing in a turbulent feature film market (and this was before Covid!). But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he will be premiering a new film at Cannes this year, Crimes of the Future. But lest you think this humble film reviewer has been granted access to those exclusive ranks, I must unfortunately let you down and inform you that this particular review concerns Cronenberg’s 1970 experimental film of the same name.
Cronenberg has taken the unusual step of taking the name from his earlier effort and apparently nothing else, meaning that his new film is NOT a remake of the older one. The latter concerns the medical (mis)adventures of one Adrian Tripod (Ronald Mlodzik) as he narrates and navigates a post-apocalyptic future where all adult females have fallen victim to a disease named after Tripod’s absent mentor, the unseen Antoine Rouge. On a meandering pursuit of knowledge, Tripod joins a series of bizarrely named institutions including “Metaphysical Import-Export” and the “Oceanic Podiatry Group”, sometimes to study navigating a world without women, other times to engage in some kind of foot fetish (don’t tell Tarantino).
While seedings of the body horror Cronenberg would eventually become famous for bubble up occasionally, including whipped cream-like secretions and one character with a mutated growth in one nostril, the film’s most disturbing turn comes near the end which takes a shockingly close pass at paedophilia. No gore necessary to make this reviewer uncomfortable.
Like his earlier effort Stereo, Cronenberg also renders his second film in a silent tableau supplemented by the aforementioned narrative commentary plus not-quite-diegetic sound effects, only this time in colour. The results are once again fascinatingly boring. Cronenberg throws lots of ideas about sexuality and bodily autonomy up on the screen, but you might need the instruction manual to decipher them.
Mlodzik is in fine form as Tripod, bringing a sombre yet bemused and almost lackadaisical quality to the protagonist who slithers through the cold modernist scenery as if escaped from a Tim Burton film. The supporting cast including fellow Stereo alumnus Jack Messinger keep the film’s brutalist world on an even keel, communicating what they can through the silent medium, even though much of it is left to subjective interpretation.
Crimes of the Future certainly isn’t built for entertainment value, a skill Cronenberg would begin to develop only a few years later with Shivers. Experimental film is a simultaneously fascinating and frustrating arena to play in with starkly subjective rewards. But if you wish to see the formation of the truss that would ultimately form the foundation of Canada’s own horror master, you could do worse than to spend the 63 minutes. Just prepared to lose your appetite for whipped cream.
Crimes of the Future can currently be streamed on the Criterion Channel