Future Frames Review: The Legionnaire
by Laurence Boyce
- Hleb Papou’s powerful story about a man torn between two worlds is screening as part of EFP’s Future Frames at Karlovy Vary
The start of The Legionnaire (Il legionario) is slightly jarring. A policeman sits on a bus, the setting has an air of the dangerous and masculine to it. But this is undercut by the dialogue as the men talk about wedding presents and home life. The overtones of power are undermined by domesticity. It is this opening scene that sets the tone for the rest of Hleb Papou’s The Legionnaire, as we’re presented with two worlds that – on closer examination – aren’t as different as they appear to be. But lead protagonist Daniel (Germano Gentile) might be forced to choose between the two.
We follow Daniel as he visits his home and family for what initially looks like a catch-up. But after a seemingly normal family dinner, Daniel confronts is mother to tell her the real reason for his presence. The building in which they live, which is home to a number of immigrants, is to be cleared by the government. He and his unit are meant to return to the building the next day to ensure that it is emptied. While he pleads with his family to leave, it seems that his words are having little effect. The next day, he must make a choice.
The Legionnaire is very much a powerful study of character and family dynamics. The film is at pains to show us how comfortable Daniel is, both with his unit and his family. Papou frames a later conversation between Daniel and his family in much the same way as the opening scene, emphasising the stark choice that Daniel has to make.
But there’s also a strong political undercurrent to the film, as it touches upon themes of identity and integration. Of course, the central dilemma of the film – a police taskforce will clear a building housing ‘illegal’ immigrants – is an overt reflection of modern times. But the way in which Daniel has framed his identity is also a telling examination of modern day society. His ethnicity marks him as different to his unit colleagues, but there is acceptance and friendship. However, his nickname ‘Hot Choc’ – both affectionate and somewhat of a racial epithet – suggests a certain amount of denial of part of his identity in order to fit in. This is reinforced in a later scene with Daniel and his family, not only when it’s revealed that he was not non-violent as a youngster, but also when family friend Caterina is introduced. Shown as having a soft spot for Daniel, and being a close friend of the family, she seems somewhat the opposite of him. During the film’s final moments, in which Daniel’s fateful decision will have repercussions for a long time to come, we see her staring at Daniel. Her shock of red hair, thin frame and pale white skin provide a huge visual contrast to Daniel – bulky, dark-skinned and bald. Daniel seems to be far removed from the family and friends that he began with.
Part of the film’s success is down to a sympathetic performance by Gentile, but also Papou’s bold direction. This product of the Centro Sperimentale Di Cinematografia in Italy will screen at EFP’s Future Frames at Karlovy Vary and should continue to be popular at film festivals thanks to its strong social message.
For more information on The Legionnaire, click here.
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