Snowden describes himself as a patriot in the film, which, toward the end, includes a news clip of President Obama saying he feels otherwise. But Citizenfour is a story about U.S. policies and agencies that have been exiled to international capitals and in-between spaces, like a megacity-hopping adaptation of a novel William Gibson has yet to write.
Not long after she began working with Snowden, Poitras moved to Berlin to prevent her footage from being seized. We see Greenwald in his adopted hometown of Rio de Janeiro, greeting his partner in the airport after the man was detained in the U.S. for hours. Snowden, of course, spent over a month in the Moscow airport before being granted asylum in Russia, where, the film discloses, his girlfriend Lindsay Mills has joined him.
Then there's that Hong Kong hotel room, chosen strategically in a location with two layers of government in order to complicate U.S. actions. It's an anonymous space that feels, in the movie, like the world is bearing down on it. Its inhabitants watch the news erupt on TV as Greenwald's first story is filed, as Snowden tracks on his laptop what's happening to his loved ones as his identity is discovered, and as, hours later, reporters finally physically come calling. The world feels hauntingly within reach and far away at once.