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1981 (2009)

by on 2015/03/11

1981 (2009)

“The damn truth only works if everybody’s telling it. If it’s only you, it’s useless.”

* * * * *

Once again I’m confounded by my inadequacy. I feel I’m utterly inappropriate to review this video, not because I can’t express my reactions to it, but because it hits so close to home.

With 1981, writer/director Ricardo Trogi has crafted (and narrated) a work based on his own life. The details may vary slightly — I’m not a particular fan of hockey or the Seventies rock band KISS — and in other aspects very greatly, but the end result moved me to tears at the vivid mirror it held up to my past.

Like young Ricardo, I too was a junior high liar. Maybe our fathers were similarly influential, with their “old world” recollections chronicled in wildly dramatic fashion. We also seem to have developed a similar sense of responsibility for the financial perils affecting our families at the time.

Trogi’s family isn’t Swiss, but they’re near enough: Italian-Quebecois “Gypsies” whose lives were influenced by the Germans. For young Ricardo, swaddled in Canada, being middle class is not enough. He spends every available moment dreaming of catalogue purchases. An Intellivision or Walkman is nearly worth more than a girl’s interest.

Moving to a new school named after Antoine de Saint-Exupery — whose Little Prince makes a perfect companion piece — Ricardo tries to fit in with a “red K-Way” clique by appealing to their lust for Playboy magazines. Along the way, he dodges his sister and develops a crush on his tutor. His parents are mostly concerned he do well, go to university, and realize their dream of becoming an architect.

At several points I was reminded of Ralphie in the classic Christmas Story, wanting a particular material item, coming up with the plans to get it, and having no qualms about being a brat in the process. I can say that because I’ve certainly done so myself. (I’m nothing if not crystal clear on my flaws.) As the script itself notes, “When you’re a liar, you recognize other liars fast.” The comeuppance of a spoiled egocentric is a principal theme in this case.

Trogi risks a central character who might put some viewers off, but treats everything in such a way that it’s quirky without being obtuse, simultaneously funny and poignant, the midadventurer’s road to self-discovery. Everything reinforces this spirit as much as the on-screen details: meta-reality and knowing looks at the camera . . . fantastic cut-aways to The Little Prince, World War II, and other realms . . . freeze frames, superimpositions and post-production treatments of each era.

And speaking of details, nostalgia-philes with be in their element, particularly those who came of age in the Eighties. Listing the references I caught would only spoil other viewers’ fun but, rest assured, there is more here than just Rubik’s cubes.

Preoccupied by an addiction to Skyrim, Gru called out to me mid-viewing, “Is that by the same director who did CRAZY?” It isn’t, but I understand the reaction. 1981 shares a similar vibe, both grounded and surreal, with more of the angst of Degrassi Junior High. As I choked through its final moments, the only thought I could muster with clarity was, “How will its sequel possibly live up to this?” I’m desperately conflicted about finding out.

* * * * *

Rated PG

102 minutes

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