Disco Boy (2023)

March 21st, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Giacomo Abbruzzese; Cast: Franz Rogowski, Morr Ndiaye, Laetitia Ky, Mikhail Balicki; France/ Poland/Belgium/Italy 2023, 91 min.

Best known for his award-winning short documentary films Giacomo Abbruzzese’s ambitious feature debut centres on the destiny of two men from opposite ends of the world. But despite a clever idea and the extraordinary power of Helene’s Louvart’s magical visuals – which won her a reward for Best Artistic contribution at this year’s Berlinale – Disco Boy’s characters do not share the same ideals and so can never fulfil the film’s plot resolution: one is a soulful humanist hero, the other is merely out for himself.

On a bus crammed with raucously chanting football fans Aleksei (Rogowski) and his friend Mikhail (Balicki) leave the beleaguered republic of Belarus bound for the West, via Poland, on their three-day visa.

In a river near the German/Polish border the men are confronted by German Police on boats. Shots are fired, and Aleksei continues his journey alone. In Paris he undergoes the gruelling procedure of enlisting in the Foreign Legion. The arduous training will eventually achieve his aim of gaining French citizenship.

Thousands of miles away in the Niger Delta Jomo (Ndiaye) and his friend Udoka (Ky) are rebel fighters struggling for the survival of their families, their home, their lives – against the Western-backed government in hock to mighty oil giants. Jomo (Ndiaye) will come head to head with Aleksei, who is leading his men to liberate French hostages kidnapped by the rebel forces.

Jomo and Udoka  in the ensuing battle, their souls travel with Aleksei to Paris, where he drinks a glass of Bordeaux in memory of Mikhail – saying goodbye to his past for good -before embarking on a career as disco dancer – the same dream Jomo had. The two merge, and Udoka joins them: Aleksei, a stranger forever in Paris, has finally found fellow travellers, who live like him, in-between worlds.

Disco Boy scores highly on the cinematic front: a light show in its own right full of explosive set pieces – not only in the battle zones – boats glide along the Seine as well as the Niger their lights illuminating the glittering night skies where coloured comets are in free-fall as the whole universe comes alive with sight and sound.

In this magnificent milieu Abbruzzese hopes for a union of souls where the men will merge into one humanitarian mission. Even Franz Rugowski cannot redeem Aleksei who is dislocated in more than one way so there can never be a meeting of the minds with Jomo and Udoka who are selfless humanitarians fighting to keep their home, their village – their lives. Disco Boy is too clever by half to be disingenuous: a feature so rich in talent shoots itself in the foot by letting us feel we are being manipulated because we can see the strings. AS


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