World on a Wire

There are movies that make news and movies that are news. World on a Wire is one of the latter—a virtually unknown, newly restored, two-part 1973 tele-film directed by R.W. Fassbinder at the height of his powers. Predicated on the notion of a computer-generated reality populated by "identity units" who believe themselves human, the movie looks back at The Creation of the Humanoids, forward to The Matrix, and directly at Fassbinder's notoriously cult-like power over his acting ensemble. A power-elite conspiracy yarn played out on two levels of reality—virtual and real, both suffused with free-floating paranoia—World on a Wire hardly lacks for narrative (though it runs a sloggy 205 minutes). But its meaning is largely delivered via an economical yet stylish mise-en-scène. This is corporate hell—the blandly futuristic, neon-lit look leans heavily on molded plastic furniture and ubiquitous TV monitors. Strategically placed mirrors suggest the character's illusory or divided nature, while the alienated performances—alternately declamatory and uninflected—encourage the thought that the real world, too, is rife with "identity units." And the improbably romantic ending is pure 21st Century—who would have imagined Fassbinder an avatar of Avatar? (NR) HOBERMAN

Sept. 16-22, 7 p.m., 2011

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