Protagonist (USA; 90 min.)


directed by: Jessica Yu
documentary
Protagonist
 

Michael says: "I’ve been looking forward to seeing PROTAGONIST since I read about it a couple of months before it played at the Independent Film Festival of Boston last April. Unfortunately I missed it at the IFFB, but I got a second chance to take a look at this inventive documentary in Provincetown. As it ended up being my favorite film at the festival (and probably the one that generated the most discussion among those who saw it) I’m very glad I did. PROTAGONIST was directed by Jessica Yu, the woman responsible for the controversial, Chlotrudis nominated doc, IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL. While the latter film was a biographical doc about a trouble artists, its focus was clearly on storytelling, and it used art (specifically, Harvey Darger’s, the film’s subject’s art) to aid in the telling of the story. While PROTAGONIST examines a very different story (or stories) and uses a different art form, storytelling is still the emphasis.

"PROTAGONIST allows four men to tell their stories. These stories are varied, ranging from revolutionaries/terrorists to a scrawny, introverted boy discovering community in a karate class. Superficially, these four stories seem very different, but Yu uses Greek tragedy, specifically, the dramas of Euripides, to show how these disparate stories share the same themes. Corruption, redemption, self-realization, the transformation from absolute certainty to the ability to question are just some of the themes Yu explores through historical drama, and contemporary storytelling. The way PROTAGONIST weaves the different stories with Euripides dramas is brilliant, both in its conception and its execution.

"Yu uses marionettes, carved in traditional Ancient Greek style to show scenes from Euripides dramas. She intercuts these scenes with talking head interviews with the four biographical subjects, and still photos or newsreels of real life events. She also uses title cards to breaks the stories up into the segments traditionally used in Greek tragedy. The way she relates the four very different stories, also touching on gender and fatherhood issues is nothing short of masterful.

"This film is probably not for everyone, with it’s daring, well-constructed, and fascinating. I truly hope it gets some sort of theatrical release. Keep an eye out for it! 5 cats.

PROTAGONIST screened at the Provincetown International Film Festival"

 
Michael says: "While screening a prior film - IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL - at Sundance, filmmaker Jessica Yu was approached about making a documentary about Euripides. Not one to ignore a challenge Ms. Yu spent a summer reading all nineteen of Eruipides’ plays. What emerged from this effort is PROTAGONIST, a brilliant film in which four men – a bank robber, a terrorist, an ex-gay evangelist and a martial arts expert - tell their life stories in chapters arranged according to themes in the plays of Euripides.

"Each chapter – Character, Provocation, Opportunity, Turning Point, Fever, Certainty, Threshold, Doubt, Catharsis, Reversal, Cost and Reflection - is introduced with an animated Greek manuscript followed by puppets acting out scenes from various Euripides’ plays. Next, the four subjects of the film tell their story. There are few friends, family, subject matter experts or other talking heads. Some archival footage is mixed in to position the men at a given point in time. The men speak directly to the camera, consistently wear the same clothes and appear against the same color background (the color does vary for each of the men.) Keeping the visuals simple helps the viewer focus on the stories, each of which is spellbinding.

"Yu and her staff searched for stories over an eight month period and prioritized their top findings. To their surprise they only had to interview four people; each of the original choices was perfect. All four accepted the challenge of baring their souls on film. The four stories are surprisingly parallel. Each of the four men sets out pursuing goals with various combinations of dogged determination, panache and zeal. Problems experienced at an early age fuel their determination. Each of them experiences success followed by a personal crisis that changes the course of his life. None of the four becomes defeated or even falters for long (that is, if you disallow serving a prison sentence as a digression.)

"PROTAGONIST is a shining example of how good writing and creative visual design, combined with great personal stories can produce dazzling entertainment. Yu has scripted the film to a great degree and her interviews appear carefully planned. The result is a film that flows magically yet seems less contrived than many other films in which serendipity plays an obvious role. Few documentaries can put me on the edge of my seat; PROTAGONIST is one of them. 5 cats"