Hell is other people in Picco’s prison
by Bénédicte Prot
Philip Koch’s Picco [+see also:
interview: Philip Koch
film profile], which was presented in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and is vying for the Camera d'Or, is the director’s final-year graduate film from Munich Film School. It nonetheless struck festival-goers with the maturity and understatedness of its direction, as they unanimously remarked at the meeting with the film’s team after the screening. That isn’t to say that the film is lacking in impact, far from it...
"Picco" is the nickname given to prison new boy, Kevin, whose days in "educational" detention are the focus of the film. In his cell, he spends most of his time in an enclosed encounter with two ruthless boys and Tommy, who is less contaminated by the atmosphere of violent tension that divides the prisoners into predators or victims. Here, "you either take beatings, or you attack", there is no middle way, and the "puffs" won’t survive the cruel ragging and brutal demonstrations of virility.
The first two thirds of the film explore the prison rituals, whilst showing the gradual moral transformation of ordinary boy Kevin. The rape and suicide of a fellow prisoner leave Tommy and Kevin feeling guilty for not having had the courage to react. These events precipitate the moral changes and reproduce the prison’s binary dynamic between the two men.
There follows a long torture scene in which one of them is driven to the brink of suicide by the others, as if they had no choice ("You’d have done the same", says one of the torturers to the victim). After a gradual descent into debasement, which in itself doesn’t leave viewers unscathed, we find ourselves presented with images that are almost as unbearable as those of Pasolini’s Salò – so much so that those viewers who didn’t manage to watch them with gritted teeth had to leave the theatre.
The word "sadism" was moreover mentioned, but in reference to the German prison system for young offenders that the film claims to accurately reflect. Koch very much associates himself with social action films. Whence the absence of manichaeism in portraying the characters: even the worst brutes in the film at some point express a despair that is at the root of their violence. They are not, moreover, categorised according to their respective degree of innate immorality, the director having chosen not to reveal the crimes that have led them to this dreary place which neither the film, nor they, ever leave.
Picco also refuses any voyeurism, whence "the economy of means" intended by Koch, to whom the film owes its honesty and the radical force of its message.
(Translated from French)
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