Afterschool

August 25, 2009


This isn’t a film that’s widely available to watch, it’s only on at The Showroom in Sheffield and a handful of other independent cinemas around the UK, but if it’s on near you I recommend you check it out if only to remind yourself that America can produce some great art movies as well as that Hollywood dross that I write about all the time on this blog.

The 26 year old director of Afterschool, Antonio Campos, has already won acclaim for a couple of short films he’s produced over the last few years, and this is his first feature. The plot revolves around Robert, a pupil at an East Coast private school that’s all about tradition, money and a ‘progressive’ approach to pupil-teacher relationships (the guidance councillor gets the boys to open up to him by telling ‘I fucked your mum’ jokes). Robert is an outcast who loves to watch online videos of innocent, funny, violent and sexual acts which anyone of my generation will be familiar with. He joins the audio/video club as an after school activity and during the process of shooting some stock footage he captures the deaths of two beautiful twins who have succumbed to the effects of cocaine cut with rat poison. The deaths have a massive impact on the school community, and Robert is roped in to making a memorial video about the twins as a kind of therapeutic reprieve for the trauma he is supposed to have suffered. The video he produces is troubling and inspired by his love of the profane, dark and violent world of online video clips. And of course completely inappropriate in the eyes of the Principle.

This film really hits the mark when it comes to examining the culture of online videos, in which the funny and irreverent can be unexpectedly mixed with stark or violent images at the click of a button. It also evokes the way that the brevity of such videos can intensify their impact, an instant stiletto point of white pressure rather than a flat boot to the gut spreading its impact over time. This obsession and experience has given Robert a very detached view of the real world, and he views life as if he were watching YouTube. The relationships he has with other pupils, the teachers and his parents come into play, and the story is angsty in a fairly realistic way just about avoids becoming whiny or clichéd. This is almost a coming of age story for the YouTube generation, but with none of the hope or joy that that would normally entail. Instead it’s a story about what lies ahead in the lives of a youth who has already seen and been desensitised by too much.

The film itself is shot in a deliberately frustrating way, refusing to use deep focus or stick to traditional techniques at all in an attempt to produce a work that is consciously amateur in style. Although it’s pretentious in a way and does wear as the film goes on, it’s nice to see some art injected into the misframing of a shot or the cutting off of an actor’s head. It’s almost Bressonian, though the style is rightly identifiable as similar to a less polished Gus Van Sant. As I said, see it if and while you can, it’s worth a watch even if what it’s trying to say will only be relevant to the younger members of the audience.

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