“Disco Boy”: The French Foreign Legion drama debuts in Berlin

Berlin: Giacomo Abbruzzese’s directorial debut is a tense, gripping military drama.

It’s possible to call ‘Disco Boy’ a kind of club-kid cousin to ‘Beau Travail’, but the comparison isn’t entirely inappropriate. Like Claire Denis’ Sight and Sound charts, here’s a tour with the French Foreign Legion, another dissection of colonial role-playing, spent among tacit groups who find their best expression in the rhythm of the night. So let’s put those comparisons aside, and with the military efficiency that both films deserve: while director Giacomo Abbruzzese does indeed pay homage to an immediate artistic predecessor, his debut film stands (and wriggles and shimmers) on its own.

Pushed and pulled by yet another intensely physical Franz Rogowski turn, “Disco Boy” follows a man in constant motion, an undocumented migrant whose name, identity, nationality and, it seems, his spiritual sense of self are constantly changing.

The actor enters the film as Alexei, a Belarusian ex-con who quietly makes his way through Poland to a better life. Why should you choose France as your final destination? Well, why not? Alexei has picked up some rudimentary French—“From the movies,” Rogowski says, spitting out his sparse lines of dialogue as if he has to expel venom in a hurry—but mostly he simply follows the lead of his more experienced travel companion. , Mihail (Michał Balicki). But the crossing is not without danger, and by the time we lead a stray dog, the traveling companion is caught in Gaul, Mikhail is now just a ghost on the path. He won’t be the last.

Divided into three chapters with discrete aesthetic and formal approaches, compressed into a tight 90 minutes that nevertheless covers the foundations of a significant narrative, “Disco Boy” follows what can be called “club logic”. The three chapters present so many foils—thematic dance partners whose interactions and interactions with Alexei redirect his path. By the time Mikhail gives way to a completely different foil in the second chapter, Alexei himself has changed. Overwhelmed in a destination no less hostile than the road leading there, Alexey, the migrant Alex becomes a legionnaire. And who knows, maybe after five years of dutiful service he will become a French citizen.

Long before Abbruzzese opens chapter three on a literal dance floor, “Disco Boy” is full of sinister nighttime energy. Whether he’s wandering a Subcarpathian forest as Alexei or subjecting his body to military training as Alex, Rogowski moves to a relentless beat – a low and menacing electro score by French producer Vitalic. More soundscape than soundtrack, this metallic dirge plays off cinematographer Hélène Louvart’s decadent lighting schemes to prime viewers and replicate that initial rush of walking into a foreboding neon cathedral. Tense and mesmerized, he feels all the more alert.

Still, as a captivating visual and intellectual spectacle, the film perhaps peaks too soon. With training and enlistment complete, the second chapter takes us into the field on a mission with Alex and his unit in the Niger Delta. For the first (and only) time, Abbruzzese’s camera leaves the lead behind, focusing instead on Jomo (Morr Ndiaye), a local insurgent leading guerrilla attacks against international exploiters. Of course, he attracts the French unity. Would it surprise you that they sided with the Big Oil exploiters?

“Disco Boy” doesn’t aim for or care about subtlety, presenting both Jom and Alex as soldiers of fate and paws of fortune, two sides of the same coin brought into conflict by capital. Underpinning the raw message with thrillingly blunt filmmaking, Abbruzzese orchestrates a series of raids and counter-attacks with a willful flair, bathing a key nighttime attack in infrared blinding that obscures predator from prey and sets up a pivotal moment between Alex and Jomo. apparently a river bank drawn from a previous chapter. The distance between Poland and Nigeria suddenly collapsed, as if to say: wherever you go, there you are.

In this roundabout way we find a director grappling with the familiar and paradoxical question: How do you shoot war without glorifying it? Offering a deadly second act capstone, Abbruzzese grabs a blade and simply cuts the knot. Surveyed with sweeping helicopter-mounted views of the ultimate damage, “Disco Boy” clearly captures the thrill of such military adventuring and spares no gruesome moral damage.

These bells will ring until the end. By the time of the third chapter, in France and drowning his sorrows in an elegant Parisian disco, Aleksey-cum-Alex accidentally meets Adoka (Laëtitia Ky). Who is this latest dance partner? Is it the pure manifestation of the guilt of the woman or the soldier attached to the mission in Nigeria? In this more figurative rear third, the distinction doesn’t matter one iota. Abbruzzese moves from the “club logic” to the logic of dreams from his broader political points already outlined on the screen, and traces the final (d)evolution of the legionnaire in a style that evokes the moment at night when the walls of reality collapse.

Certainly an uplifting style as The material can be a terribly effective way of shrugging off the narrative, and you can track the film as it gradually loses its stamina in real time. But in a taut and elliptical ninety minutes, a few awkward final steps hardly seem like a fatal flaw. Getting in, landing and getting out like a sizzling reel bouncing in style, ‘Disco Boy’ heralds a promising new talent who’s got the moves all right.

grade: B

“Disco Boy” premiered at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival. It is currently distributed in the United States.

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