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An experimental documentary mixing the brutal facts of one man’s life with various cinematic flights of fancy, Never Die Young is an intriguing, if somewhat familiar, account of the ravages caused by long-term heroin use as seen through the eyes of a troubled kid growing up in working-class Luxembourg. Using voiceover and stark, uninhabited images to convey the emptiness of his subject’s harrowing existence, director Pol Cruchten (Boys on the Run) provides some food for thought and a few shocking twists in this short 70-minute feature, but the material doesn’t add up to much more than an artsy public service message against sustained drug addiction.
Released at home late September, and winner of the Letzebuerger Filmprais for Best Documentary, the film could see some additional festival and broadcast play, especially in Western Europe. It will also represent the Grand Duchy as its official Academy Award submission in the foreign-language category. (The country won its first ever Oscar last year for the animated short Mr Hublot.)
An unseen narrator (played by French actor Robinson Stevenin) recounts the tale of a boy growing up in the border town of Petange, where he suffered through a difficult and seemingly unloving childhood before being sent away to boarding school, only to return home and fall prey to the perils of hashish, and eventually, heroin. Supporting his growing habit through dealing and petty thefts, he would be arrested several times before facing possible incarceration at age twenty.
Rather than risking a long prison sentence, he decides to jump from the courthouse fire escape, thinking that he would break a few bones at worst. But in one of two major turns his life would take, he wound up paralyzing himself from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair and entirely dependent on the Luxembourg health system for the rest of his days.
Using meticulously composed images (courtesy of DP Jerzy Palacz, Shirley: Visions of Reality) that reveal the different locations — schools, hospitals, desolate suburban streets — where events took place, Cruchten engagingly conveys his character’s plight without resorting to the usual dramatizations or talking-head interviews. Other sequences, where he has actors wear latex masks or a performer do a lengthy interpretive dance, are less convincing, resorting to art-school-level symbolism (e.g. a guy dressed in a foreboding skeleton costume), whereas reality itself may have been powerful enough.
Per the press notes, the story is based on that of the filmmaker’s own cousin, and Cruchten — who directed the 1992 Cannes Un Certain Regard entry Hochzaeitsnuecht — certainly makes us feel empathy for a man who was dealt a bad deck from early on, ultimately kicking his addiction after putting his own life in danger a second time. But beyond a few curious facts, such as how easily he managed to procure drugs in a public hospital, there’s nothing all that new here, and we’ve heard lines like “Heroin’s like an orgasm, only a hundred times better” probably a hundred times by now.
First-rate cinematography and sound design (by Julien Martin, Black’s Game) are accompanied by two Bob Dylan standards — “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” — which, like the movie itself, are somewhat predictable choices that get the message across.
Production companies: Red Lion
Director, screenwriter: Pol Cruchten
Producer: Jeanne Geiben
Director of photography: Jerzy Palacz
Production designer: Philip Krieps
Costume designer: Isabelle Dickes
Editor: Dominique Gallieni
Sales: Red Lion
No rating, 69 minutes
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