Picco -- Film Review

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CANNES -- The debut film of 28-year-old director Philip Koch, "Picco" relies heavily on the conventions of the prison movie genre. The principal initial difference is that this jail is a kind of "youth prison" for teenage boys, rather than the penitentiary for hardened criminals that usually serves as the location of most examples of the genre. The other difference, which is major, and majorly off-putting, is that the level of violence depicted in this film is so intense that it makes a Michael Haneke movie like "Funny Games" look like a benign little fairy tale.

Thus while the film may attract a certain attention or rather, notoriety, commercial prospects seem slim. It may however have a fruitful life on DVD by attracting scads of the kind of viewers who like this kind of thing.

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"Picco" is a nickname that is attached to Kevin, a new boy in the prison. He is variously brutalized by the other inmates and coddled by a sympathetic counselor who is concerned that he may be so shocked by his new surroundings that he might commit suicide. He quickly learns the golden rule of the genre: you are either the aggressor or the victim. Of course, both positions can carry grave psychological consequences.

The film's rhythm is never quite convincing and much of the brutal proceedings seems forced and artificial. It's also abstemious about music, which it lacks completely, thus denying director Koch an easy method to make things flow more smoothly.

The boys obsessively talk about sex in the most violent manner and brag about how they are going to violate their girlfriends once they are released. The other incessant sex talk revolves around the homosexual panic that they seem to collectively experience: the favored insult is one of the dozens of synonyms for "faggot" that punctuate the dialogue. One of the weaker boys is made to show his diminutive "zizi" in the shower, so that the others can ridicule him. Later, a letter he's been eagerly awaiting from his girlfriend is burned in front of him, before he has a chance to read it.

There is an occasional visit by a parent or a girlfriend but the emphasis is relentlessly on the boys. Kevin, though he accepts the victim/aggressor dichotomy out of necessity, seems to morally anguish about it, but his dilemma never seems completely convincing.

We watch as the days are ticked off: day 3, day 49, day 104. The psychological violence is total and ceaseless, and all points toward the big payoff scene that lasts more than one third of the film. This is the scene in which the film's two principal bullies, along with the reluctant aid of Kevin, set out to torture the weakest boy so relentlessly that he will be forced to hang himself to make it stop.

They beat him, cut his arms, and so violate him that the vast majority of viewers (who've lasted this far) will be completely turned off. Many walkouts occurred during the Cannes screening I attended, and one Frenchman angrily shouted out as he left, "they might as well show scenes of torture from Auschwitz!" and others seemed to agree.

The film's over-obvious message is delivered by one of the principal bullies, when he tells Kevin that they won't ever get in trouble for any of this because absolutely no one on the outside cares one whit about what happens to them. Thus the director gets to point a finger at an uncaring society while indulging in the ultra-violence, as Alex called it in Kubrick's "Clockwork Orange," at the same time.

Section: Directors Fortnight
Production Companies: Walker-Worm Film
Cast: Constantin von Jascheroff, Joel Basman, Frederick Lau, Martin Kiefer, Jule Gartzke
Director: Philip Koch
Screenwriter: Philip Koch
Director of photography: Markus Eckert
Production designer: Jan Jericho
Editor: Andre Bendocchi-Alves
Sales: Rezo Films
No rating, 105 minute
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