Sunday, 28 April 2013

VALENTINE ROAD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Klymkiw HOT DOCS 2013 HOT PICKS

Valentine Road (2013) ****
Dir. Marta Cunningham

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Two boys. One 15, the other 14. Their home: Oxnord, California - a tiny town amidst bucolic orange groves and smack dab along the Pacific Ocean. Some would call it a paradise, but for Lawrence "Larry" King and Brandon McInerney, Hell in Sun-Dappled Clothing might be a better name for this repressed, racist, homophobic, intolerant backwater. There are, at least on the surface, many positives when weighing the attributes of the Country over the Town, but in many cases, solitude, fresh air and natural beauty - for those who can, uh, think (at least for themselves) - must take a back seat to the numbing negativity of narrow-minded hatred of anything viewed as outside of the perceived norms.

I know this all too well. I've had one toe in the Town and the other toe in the Country for most of my life and the virtues of the latter, while vital on many levels for me, are equally stifling on the other.

There were, while watching Marta Cunningham's finely etched documentary portrait of tragic events in Oxnord, similar dichotomous feelings on emotional levels (though aesthetically I was all for this). Valentine Road is, without question, thrilling filmmaking that crackles with the power of a great procedural thriller, but the effect overall extends well beyond that as we're forced to face the genuine reality of the tragedy that unfolds. One moment we're tantalized by the sheer virtuosity of the filmmaking and the next, Cunningham steers us into territory that's heart wrenching to the point where one is moved to tears - perhaps even stifled sobs.

The facts, you see, are these:

One boy is flamboyantly gay, the other is a potentially burgeoning white supremacist. One is now dead, the other is spending 21 years in prison where, given his age and good looks, is no doubt "enjoying the benefits" of sexual abuse and eventually seeking the protection of being another con's "bitch." And these, are just the surface facts. Cunningham draws us into the true story by painting a portrait - an extremely graphic and horrifying one at that - of a young gay man's flirtatious action leading to his murder before shocked classmates and teacher while at school.

Using a blend of actual security video from the school, crime scene photos, police interrogation room footage, short bursts of animation, tv news and current affairs clips and powerful new interviews with students, parents, cops, lawyers and teachers, Cunningham manages the near impossible - we're sucked into the tale with certain perspectives then subtly drawn into completely different ones. One might say there's ultimately a balanced approach to the tale, but thankfully it doesn't take the form of the (for me) dreaded journalistic approach, but comes closer to that of the rich ambiguities one finds in the work of many great filmmakers - whether it be Antonioni, Resnais, Peckinpah, Haneke, Lynch or, among others, Aronofsky.

What's extraordinary is Cunningham's perfect balance of manipulation (great cinema MUST do this, it's only a problem when we notice it to the point where we're taken out of the drama) and the kind of ambiguity that holds onto the central conflict with the strength of a pitbull's jaws - shaking it up, but never letting go. This feels, of course, as much a triumph of direction as it is the dazzlingly brilliant editing by Tchavdar Georgiev and Yana Gorskaya.

Valentine Road is ultimately an essential film. First of all, for its exemplary use of cinema as one of the great art forms of all time, but perhaps most vitally, its use in reaching those who will most benefit from it - children. The film achieves its attributes that it will have no problem preaching to the converted, but Cunnigham's approach is so dazzling and intelligent that the movie has the potential to go far beyond the rarity of film festival audiences, art houses and HBO viewers. This movie must be seen as widely as possible - especially in schools, especially in the "country".

The intolerance displayed in the school where poor little Larry was gunned down and where his killer suffered years of physical abuse (ignored by those who should know better) is, as seen in the film, appalling. The lack of attention paid to the students after the killing, the lack of counselling and, I think, most egregiously, the horrendous treatment of the warm, brilliant, open-minded teacher who held Larry in her arms after the shooting and continues to suffer post traumatic stress disorder, are all important reasons why America (sadly, in particular) must embrace this film. It must be shown to every educator, every member of the education system, every child, every parent, every bureaucrat, every politician - everyone.

On one hand, I'd normally say there's a snowball's chance in Hell of that happening, but if enough Americans who see this film lobby all their school boards, their politicians and frankly, President Obama himself - lobby constantly and vociferously - this is truly a film that is imbued with the power to change.

Do it!

"Valentine Road" is playing at the Hot Docs 2013 Film Festival. For tickets and showtimes, visits the festival website HERE.