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Protagonist | Film Review | Slant Magazine

IFC Films



2.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0 out of 5 2.0

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Would that Meagan's Law could protect us from Protagonist, another weirdly hermetic documentary exercise from the director of In the Realm of the Unreal. Jessica Yu presents the four men whose life stories are the center of the film as if they were dirty pretty things yanked from a diorama inside the Museum of Natural History, understanding them in the same way high-schoolers all over the country are forced to scour for familiar narrative impulses in the tragedies of Euripides. Though Yu acknowledges the unique struggles of these men, she trivially latches on to commonalities in their lives (an ex-con's childhood note to his violent father that reads “I love you even though you hit us” connects to a martial arts aficionado's revelation that he used to be the school punching bag) to show how our lives essentially follow the plot trajectories of Greek dramas. To emphasize this point, Yu furnishes the film with fancy chapter stops featuring animated objects and people that suggest the drawings on the side of ancient Greek vases come to life, with words like “catharsis” (spelled out in English and Greek) branded across the top of the frame. The attention Yu lavishes on the little male penises that dangle between the legs of her animated Shrinky Dinks is almost disconcerting, yet this formal device is still less sketchy than the Greek puppetry she uses to banally recreate moments from the lives of her four talking heads. Their lives are nightmare collisions with violent parents, rebellions against religion, and odysseys for acceptable forms of male bonding—fascinating, often touching stuff that is too neatly sculpted into highly intellectualized mounds of human observation intended for no other reason than to flatter Yu's fetish with Greek narrative plot structure and give her a platform to exhibit her latest animated achievements.

IFC Films
90 min
Jessica Yu
Jessica Yu