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The Trotsky (2009)

by on 2013/04/27

The Trotsky (2009)

“Perhaps you are not the best spokesperson for your cause.”

* * * *

I’m not the right one to review The Trotsky, an ambitious little film by writer/director Jacob Tierney. Not because he’s the son of producer Kevin Tierney, whose Bon Cop Bad Cop I disliked. And not (just) because the script reminded me of Juno’s grating quirk. But because I know only enough about politics to make opining about it dangerous.

The extent of my grasp of politics is an aborted introductory course, an abiding interest in propaganda, and a formative phase of total immersion in all things Monty Python.

Furthermore, I was in the wrong mood when I saw it, and found it all slightly irritating, longer, slower paced, and less distilled than the trailer would suggest.

Putting all that aside, I do see a lot of potential here, for amusing and insightful ideas about development, education, rights and freedoms, self-expression and activism,

Set in and around Montreal West High School, the story chronicles the antics of Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel of Fetching Cody) who believes himself to be the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. In a plot paralleling Trotsky’s experiences, Leon tries to arouse a sense of socio-political awareness in his fellows, while romancing an older woman (Emily Hampshire), and searching for “his” Vladimir Ulianov.

All he does raises the hackles of school officials and his family, with the notable exception of his devoted younger sister (Tommie-Amber Pirie of Michael, Tuesdays and Thursdays). The cast around them is impressive, talented enough to avoid being orbiting caricatures, including Genevieve Bujold (Dead Ringers), Anne-Marie Cadieux, Colm Feore (Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould), Ben Mulroney, Michael Murphy (Away From Her), Saul Rubinek (Hollywood North), and Paul Spence (FUBAR II).

On the other hand, I often felt the production was nearly too dense with references, clever yet inorganic and obtrusive: repeated references to Battleship Potemkin, extremely low-and-close oratory angles, “imagined” crowds and choirs, the way Leon holds one arm behind him, the type of car he drives, his balding-and-goateed nemesis, and the agitprop animation.

In truth, I might not have minded if I didn’t find Leon so intolerably pretentious. He struck me as a bourgeois rabble-rouser, outspoken when it wouldn’t affect him, rebelling against his parents’ support as long as they kept being supportive. I find this sort of hypocrisy extremely disaffecting.

When all else fails, he’s eccentric, provocative, and unrealistically ambitious. There’s something to be said for reaching for the stars in order to grasp the moon, but Leon epitomizes the distinction between intelligence and wisdom. Though we’re meant to be swept along by his energy and idealism, I found his naivety as much a weakness as a strength.

It goes beyond tolerating the short-lived outspokenness of a post-secondary student. This hero may be mentally ill. At the very least he’s deluded. And he goes too far in serving his cause, with little suffered or accomplished. Whether it’s true to the original Trotsky is not for me to judge but, as a fictional narrative, it’s somewhat unsatisfying.

If the greatest value of this effort is as an entree to further dialogue, then fine, but it’s not a conversation I’m interested in having anymore. Perhaps one day I’ll come around, like the jaded lawyer character (Murphy). For now, I just know that I’m the wrong person for the job.

While I do remember my student years with some sense of poignancy, I can’t relate to having been any more radical than moderate myself, and I’ve only become more establishment since then. This movie clearly allies itself with a child’s outspoken entitlement, which is interesting, and sometimes entertaining, but something I don’t support.

In fact I’ve seen a couple of comparisons between The Trotsky and Ferris Bueller. Instead, for me, it’s The Breakfast Club all over again and, admittedly, I may be too old for the lessons of either school.

* * * *

Rated 14A

113 minutes

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