Full Contact: inside the mind of a drone pilot
by Vittoria Scarpa
- Dutch director David Verbeek’s new film, part of the Official Selection at this year’s Rome Film Fest, is a disorientating journey to the border between reality and fiction
Following on from R U There [+see also:
interview: David Verbeek, director of …
film profile], which plunged its protagonist into a virtual shoot-em-up world, 35-year-old Dutch director David Verbeek returns to explore the border between reality and fiction in his sixth feature film, Full Contact [+see also:
film profile], a journey into the mind of a drone pilot who, safety seated behind his computer screen, kills the enemy from thousands of miles away. Unveiled in competition at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, and included in the Official Selection of the 10th Rome Film Fest, Verbeek’s film is a technology-fuelled descent into a hellish world populated by daydreams, nightmares and guilt, led by an outstanding protagonist, French actor Grégoire Colin (35 Shots of Rum [+see also:
film profile], The Killer [+see also:
film profile], The Dreamlife of Angels), with sensory and hypnotic staging.
Sowing the seeds of death from behind a monitor: to what extent do we perceive it as real? Ivan is a military operator who controls American drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan from his base in Nevada, hunting terrorists. He kills sat at his computer, out of harm’s way, guided by a voice in his ear which, every time he identifies a target, coldly confirms the hit with the word “contact”. He lives alone, in a white, sterile apartment; in his spare time, he rides around on his motorbike and goes to strip clubs. It’s there that he meets stripper Cindy (Lizzie Brocheré), the only other human being we see him socialise, or try to socialise, with. But then one day Ivan accidentally attacks a school: an event which doesn’t seem to have an effect on him at first glance (“I was following orders”, he says) but which actually marks a turning point in his life.
The film is divided into three distinct sections: after the first, described above, we find ourselves in a sort of nightmare world in which Ivan, naked and on the rocks, returns to a primitive state, making fires, eating crabs and exploring caves. It’s a disorientating journey into the mind of the protagonist in the same places where the terrorists hide, where Ivan looks the enemy in the eyes for the first time. In the third section, Ivan has changed his life, he works as a baggage handler at a French airport. He makes friends with a colleague who resembles Cindy and takes full contact lessons from Al Zaim (Slimane Dazi). He’s preparing for an important fight, when he will come into physical contact with his adversary: he gradually moves closer to reality, and the concrete reality of violence, which will also bring him inner peace.
“I always try to use my films to capture the spirit of the times. When I first heard about drone pilots, I immediately felt like their complicated relationship with the screen was something that concerns all of us”, said Verbeek. “It’s a film that I simply had to make and could only do so by getting into the deeply disturbed mind of the protagonist”. The result is a non-linear, captivating film that leaves the viewer with their doubts but certainly not indifferent.
(Translated from Italian)