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Protagonist

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Protagonist
Directed by Jessica Yu
IFC Films
November 30 through December 13
IFC Center
Paradoxically proving through innovation that there's nothing new under the sun, director Jessica Yu (In the Realms of the Unreal) craftily co-opts and builds upon the intertwining, disparate talking-head structure of Errol Morris's Fast, Cheap & Out of Control to illustrate how a modern life can follow the same trajectory as a classic hero's journey. Inspired by an absurdly challenging request to make a doc about the Greek tragedian Euripides, Yu's alternative approach was to deconstruct the playwright's ideas through an articulate, motley quartet of extremist personalities: The son of a Nazi father and Jewish mother, Hans-Joachim Klein grows up to be a leftist enforcer until realizing that he has been exploited by his own revolution; abused child Joe Loya finds catharsis as a compulsive bank robber; devout Christian evangelical Mark Pierpoint publicly represses his homosexuality; and, almost as comic relief, Yu's once- bullied husband Mark Salzman battles his obsession with martial arts. All four undergo corresponding transformations: A catalyst (daddy issues, abuse) forces them to change in drastic ways. They change so much that eventually they hit a wall, having to deal with the realization that they've become the exact opposite of everything they originally believed in and strove for. Then, one by one, each finds balance, becoming the people we now see telling their life stories. Organized by thematic signposts—wooden puppets performing Euripidean scenes, and title cards such as "Turning Point" and "Doubt" (both intriguing devices that too often slow down the brisk momentum)— Yu's rousing, difficult-to-classify exercise in parallel storytelling is surprisingly accessible, and all the more insightful for it.
 
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