Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stories of Struggle

Nurse.Fighter.Boy (Charles Officer, 2008) *Director in Attendance
*** (A Must-See)

Writer-director Charles Officer’s first feature film Nurse.Fighter.Boy - co-written by Ingrid Veninger - is a moving story of three Jamaican-Canadians during the last week of summer in Toronto. The story follows a boxer, Silence (Clark Johnson), a nurse, Jude (Karen LeBlanc), and her adolescent son Ciel (Daniel Gordon). It was partly financed by the Canadian Film Centre. Nurse.Fighter.Boy is in competition for 10 Genies at the April 12th Canadian film award ceremonies. It the strongest contender with Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique, a film about the 1989 Marc Lépine massacre of 18 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. Nurse.Fighter.Boy was projected in Ottawa on March 6th at the Library and Achieves Canada as part of the CFI’s Emergence – New Canadian Independents series.

In Nurse.Fighter.Boy, Jude is from a family of Jamaican-Canadian nurses and is resilient in face of her sickle-cell disease. She does her best to look after her son. In the most moving sequence in the film, Jude is finally courted by Silence. She goes up to his place, they listen to a record (music, specifically Canadian music, plays a large role in this film) they slowly dance beside each other. They dance and then they kiss. All her troubles such as her illness, her deep worry for Ciel, her vulnerability, and her yearning are all somehow relieved. This cathartic moment is beautifully prolonged as we relish in the two hurt souls coming together. We enjoy their consolidation vicariously.

Charles Officer previous short When Morning Comes (2000) is an experimental film that touches upon gang activity in Toronto. Nurse.Fighter.Boy is a continuation of that theme with its emphasis on youth violence. Jude worries about her son when he gets into a fight at a park, later she tells him that he should always fight back. Her worrying increases when at the hospital she nurses a dying young adult, who reminds her of Ciel.

Silence runs the Exodus Fighters Gym, the previous owner Horace died of a heart attack. He teaches local kids to box, with an assistant trainer, and purports to be good role model as he denounces gun activity and looks after them when necessary. He still has to come to terms with his past as an illegal street fighter. After winning what-is-a-brutal fight, there is a close-up of the faces of all the on-looking African-Canadian adults. Afterwards Silence vows not to fight again and he tells the bookie to never again show up at his gym.

Charles Officer is best to be approached as a blooming Canadian counter-part of the American independent filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, the director of Goodbye Solo (2009), Chop Shop (2008), and Man Push Cart 2005). In the New York Times A.O. Scott classifies Ramin Bahrani as a “Neo-Neo-Realist” which is an extension of the 1940’s Italian Neo-Realism – a group of filmmakers whose films focused on the lives of the working class in a war-torn country – and is characterized by “Most of the scenes in the film take place outdoors, and while there is a clear, poignant story, it takes shape not through expository dialogue but through gestures, actions and details that the camera absorbs in long, patient shots.” This is an apt description for Charles Officer's style in Nurse.Fighter.Boy. The stylistic traits he does use are restraint and include heartbeat editing, heightening color, and isolating shots to change settings.

Charles Officer is part of the wider landscape of Canadian filmmakers whose narrative go against the archetype caucasian male protagonist. Other filmmakers include Zacharias Kunuk with the Inuit population, Denny Arcand and the Québécois, Atom Egoyan and the Armenian assimilationist, Deepa Mehta and Indo-Canadians, Léa Pool and her women protagonist, and Donigan Cumming with the socially-assisted poor. As a whole these filmmakers better demonstrate Canadian multiethnicity and diversity and it is these types of films that should be promoted and seen within Canada and abroad instead of the Canadian-Hollywood appropriators like Jason Reitman or James Cameron.-David Davidson

(Canadian Film Institute, Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, 6/03, 7PM)

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