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Robert Hull [Film Festival 10.25.12] drama



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Away from the US and UK streets where punk was born and raised, the movement can still represent a way of giving voice to emotions, whether that's anger, hostility, or even insecurity. Based on the novel Viens la que je tue ma belle, by Boris Bergmann, director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire's Punk tries to channel teenage hopes and fears into a movie about a boy's battle with his inner demons and his complex feelings regarding his absent father.


It's a film full of adrenaline, flipping from scenes of punks running riot in a 7-11 store, to them bellowing out and crashing into each other at gigs, to them confronting other punks in a tribal dance of posturing and violence. At its centre, though, is Paul (a mesmeric Paul Bartel), a teenager at odds with his mother, Teresa (Beatrice Dalle) and searching for the father who left them and refuses to acknowledge his son's presence. Though Paul is a punk, Sauvaire cleverly elects to portray him at odds with the uniforms of mohicans, safety pins and studs. Paul is never seen in full punk regalia. He remains part of the group, but always slightly at a distance from it.

However, while Paul's detachment can be understood, the fact that Sauvaire's style of filming echoes it creates a disconnection for the audience. The gigs and fights are shot artfully and edited with care but in their high-definition beauty they deliver a sensation of being divorced from the physicality of the events. A more visceral result would have come from putting the camera at the centre of the storm and letting it soak up the friendship, sweat and malevolence.

What does work are the intimate, and rather strange, scenes of Paul at home with his mother. Teresa (as you'd expect with Dalle in the role) is not your typical parent, and the uneasy relationship between them teeters around between love, despair and devotion - a poignant example being a scene where Teresa follows her son to the bathroom and then keeps flicking the light switch off, when he keeps turning it on. It's a simple sequence but conveys Paul's tension and his mother's loving/ambivalent feelings towards him. The scene veers between comedy and rage in a matter of heartbeats.

Punk struggles to shake off the shackles of some filmic cliches, such as endless smoking and its undercurrent of 'I love you, but I hate you too'. However, there is still much to savour in a movie that has been judiciously pruned to 90 minutes, and which at least seeks to give voice to a range of feelings that it may be easy to snigger at, but which remain universal.

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