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Thread: DISCO BOY (Giacomo Abbruzzese 2023)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    DISCO BOY (Giacomo Abbruzzese 2023)




    Guy Lodge in his Variety review points out this debut is bald about its strong debt to Claire Denis' French Foreign Legion romance Beau Travail, even to the intense final Euro-dance by Denis Lavant. Here the dancer is the cryptic, intense Euro it-boy Franz Rogowski as Aleksei, an escapee from Belarus to Paris seeking a new identity in the Legion, but haunted by visions and phantoms that, whether in jungle or disco, throb with exciting mystery in Hélène Louvart's supple camerawork. Whatever its flaws or lacunae, Italian director Abbruzzese's film is an engaging trip into the heart of darkness and back out again.

    There are other boldly worn influences, which Lodge says "run the gamut from Denis' whispery sensualism to the blunter, more brutish allegorical poetry of Pedro Costa and Albert Serra, albeit with a fluorescently queer ripple running through things." The "queer ripple" may be only a bat-squeak, but it's essential to the film's thrilling conceptual boldness.

    After a haunting brief jungle interlude to which we'll return, without ever quite knowing what it is, the storyline begins when Aleksei and his friend Mikhail (Michal Balicki) go walkabout from a Belarusian soccer fan bus into Poland and make a difficult watery journey (Mikhail doesn't make it) to Paris, where he joins the French Foreign Legion, which in several years will permit him to take a new name and French citizenship.

    Meanwhile, in the Niger Delta, Jomo (Morr Ndiaye) - the original "disco boy" leads MEND, a liberation group striving against the Oil companies threatening his village and the lives of his family. After he kidnaps some French nationals, the Foreign Legion is sent to intervene, Aleksei at their head, who kills the magnificent Jomo, whose image and ghost will haunt him, as will his sister, who winds up in Paris.

    It's complicated: but what holds it all together is the bold exoticism of the images, the intense physicality of the legionnaires constantly showering or walking around in their tighty-whities; Aleksei's chest-covering prison tattoo; Rogowski's big flat nose and staring eyes; intense closeups of other faces; slow camera-approaches to a jungle floor covered with beautiful muscular torsos; burning villages; a fire set in a locker.

    Ultimately what Abbruzzese is capturing in this intriguing, fun film about guilt, exoticism, magic and phantoms is not simply a 'heart of darkness' but, as Peter Bradshaw puts it in his enthusiastic Guardian review (he calls the film "a really stylish debut"), "the heart of an alternative reality, or a transcendent new self." Aleksei keeps running away from his new future, but one has the feeling that the legion won't let him, that he is going to stay, pursued by his demons, for that new identity that is promised.

    I was not always happy with the "driving, feverish synth score" (Lodge) of French DJ Vitalic (aka Pascal Arbez-Nicolas) that "fills and frazzles the brain," but it's essential to this film's visionary fusion of jungle and disco, muscular and etherial.

    As central as the score, the beautifully sensual imagery (including neon night vision in the jungle and images of a haunting distant phantom dancer), and the muli-purpose role of the French Foreign Legion (a home Aleksei never quite settles into) is the sheer presence of the German, now European actor Franz Rogowski, and his "strange, sparse, plaintive" performance (Lodge), which makes all the film a vision going on inside Aleksei's head. Another feather in the more and more familiar but still strange Rogowski's cap. And a film making Abbruzzese a director to watch.

    Disco Boy, 98 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 19, 2023, showing at about a dozen other international festivals, including New Directors/new Films in NY. French release May 3, 2023; US release Feb. 2, 2024. Metacritic rating: 71%.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-02-2024 at 10:29 PM.


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