‘Exist: Not a Protest Film’


Another alleged riff on Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool—following last summer’s confused if not un- interesting RNC document This RevolutionExist tails a group of Philadelphia activists after their commune is broken up by cops. Given the focus on protest, its methods, and its purposes, the model should have been Godard’s La Chinoise. But Exist—”real” because it stars real activists, and edgy because it’s largely improvised—conflates deconstruction with aimlessness; the muddy visuals and crypto-poetic voiceover (“Now I was what society had deigned from my birth—a hunted animal”) bring it perilously close to indie self-parody. The tenuous narrative follows nasal, working- class white kid Top (Nic Mevoli) as he searches for fellow collective member Jake (Ben Bartlett), a black Harvard dropout falsely accused of shooting a police officer. Considering Jake’s eloquence, his ultimate choice of exit seems more than a little melodramatic. But then, Exist is prone to posturing. Demonstrating a noble if wishy-washy faith in activism’s power to save the world, the film amounts to a brief, earnest howl against apathy—easily dismissible for those unsympathetic to its views and basically useless for everyone else. The film is being shown with the subtitle Not a Protest Film, which feels oddly appropriate: Maintaining illusions of relevance without seriously engaging the issues, the movie’s ode to revolution comes across as rather quaint.