Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Hans Joachim-Klein, Mark Pierpont, Joe Loya, Mark Salzman
Director: Jessica Yu
Genres: Sports, Documentary
Academy-Award winner Jessica Yu explores human obsession and extremism in this riveting and provocative documentary. Yu interviews four men with seemingly disparate backgrounds, and then mirrors their experiences to what h... more »
Euripides in Exile on Main Street
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 05/16/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The four protagonists are:
* a martial arts student (Mark Salzman)
* a German terrorist (Hans Klein)
* an ex-gay evangelist (Mark Pierpont)
* a bank robber (Joe Loya)
The premise for this documentary is to attempt to make connections between Euripidean tragedy & modern life. Whether the documentarian achieves this goal is debatable; nevertheless, the four subjects chosen for study have fascinating stories to tell.
Why Euripides? Euripides was known for his strong female characters (Medea), his intelligent slaves, and his willingness to mock the conventional heroes & hero worship of ancient & classical Greece. Euripides also strikes many modern scholars as being the most modern of all of the Greek tragedians as he was the one most concerned with the inner life & what truly motivates each man or woman's actions.
I think the film is extremely strong, but would have been stronger had there been at least one female protagonist in the mix. In one of the bonus features on this DVD director Jessica Yu (whose In the Realms of the Unreal, 2004, is also a terrific documentary) discusses how she chose her four subjects. The intention was not to choose four men, however, four men were indeed chosen out of 200 candidates because they each had strong narrative arcs & strong narrative voices. Also according to Yu, these four men were chosen because each had a moment in their lives when they "crashed" while the women candidates that pursued equally obsessive life courses did not crash but "crumbled". This difference strikes me as possibly the most fascinating observation in this documentary and had Yu chosen at least one female protagonist this difference could have been explored. Since Euripides was so sensitive to female psychology this would have been appropriate.
Still, the four narratives that Yu so artfully weaves together are each each extremely compelling. I found German terrorist Hans Klein (who fought next to Carlos the Jackal on a number of occasions, including the 1975 kidnapping of twelve OPEC ministers) to be the most fascinating, and Salzman to be the least interesting (though most humorous), but each narrative complements the others so well that one doesn't want any individual piece of this elaborate psychological puzzle to be removed. The high drama of Klein's terrorist lifestyle would not strike one in the same way were it not juxtaposed with Salzman's manic retelling of his Kung Fu master's psychotic hijinks. There is also just the right balance of personal and political issues as well as an aknowledgement of the link between the two.
That these four men's lives could be linked narratively amazes and sheds much light on the seemingly singular courses our lives take. The Euripides connection is not forced, just suggested really, it lingers in the background virtually forgotten until its time for a new classical Greece-inspired animated graphic (like the one on the DVD cover) to provide us with a new chapter heading. The other thing that provides the "glue" between the four protagonists and Euripidean drama are the puppets. In the bonus feature, Yu explains her rationale for using puppets and the fact that the idea first came to her when researching how the Greek tragedians used large masks onstage. Her explanation is interesting, but more than anything the little Euripidean puppet vignettes show better than anyone can rationally explain the constancy of human nature throughout time. This, as well as an invitation to be more understanding & compassionate about our fellows' narratives, is the main point of this memorable film.
Hell is for Heroes
tmp | Solar System, MA USA | 05/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In "Protagonist", director Jessica Yu brilliantly juxtaposes the works of Euripedes with the saga of four men who relate to us their journeys through various degrees of obsession. Although the four could not be more different (an ex-terrorist, and ex-"Ex-Gay", an ex-bank robber and a former martial-arts fanatic) there is a common thread in their stories. Yu was fortunate to find four men that are not only articulate enough to tell their stories well, but men whose sagas are truly riveting. Her use of the puppets acting out not only the classic scenes from Euripides plays, but actual portions of the mens lives is inspired; scenes that could have been either maudlin of far too much for the viewer have both a dark beauty and an edge of horror that's fascinating. This is not only a brilliant film, but an important one; in these times where we are asked to think only in black and white, it's important to see that where human beings are concerned, there are only shades of grey."
An Acute and Dynamic Documentary
Kasey Driscoll | 04/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Protagonist is a documentary film written and directed by Jessica Yu (In the Realms of the Unreal, Ping Pong Playa). Yu is a director who I would strongly recommend overall for her documentaries. It is unfortunate that she has focused much of her creativity on mainstream television these days.
The word protagonist is a term derived from a Greek word meaning the chief or lead character of a tragedy. So it would seem appropriate that Yu parallel her subjects with a tragedy by Euripides. Her subjects are four very different men; one is an "ex-gay" evangelist, one is a bank robber, another is a German terrorist, and finally we have an intense martial artist. All are connected by having a history of great personal struggle and then find themselves turning to a new kind of personal meaning within extremism. The film covers each individual's personal journey and mirrors their common stages with puppets acting out scenes from The Bacchae.
This film unexpectedly put me in a trance and I was utterly consumed. I haven't experienced many of the feelings that drove the four subjects to transform themselves so dramatically, so I can't say I empathize, but I saw people that I would normal judge far too quickly as more than the simple labels I gave them in my brief film summary above. This does not make them any less accountable for their actions (more specifically, the bank robber and the terrorist), it is just always an eye-opening thing to see such figures as human beings. If I were to say that is the only profound observation within The Protagonist, then I would be selling the film short. There are many layers of commentary here, and I'm sure what one person will get out of the protagonist will be a very individual experience and different entirely from another person's perspective. It can be quite a challenge to effectively review a great film like that, but it can also be very easy to recommend."
Slick | New York, NY | 08/01/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'll admit I was a little skeptical about watching a documentary about
Euripides featuring puppets, but after some initial skepticism, I was won
over by the stories of the four men. To some, the puppets may be jarring
(this might be the only movie I've ever seen featuring puppet violence),
but they do play an integral role in tying together four very different,
but similar stories.
The four protagonists- Mark Salzman, a martial arts enthusiast yearning
for dignity, Mark Pierpont, a Christian evangelist struggling with his
homosexuality, Hans-Joachim Klein, a left-wing German terrorist, and Joe
Loya, a serial bank robber- each have a fascinating story to tell, and Yu
interweaves their narratives with quotes from Euripides' The Bacchae in a
way that provides a cohesive structure to the movie.
What struck me about the stories is how much these men grow up in the
shadow of their families, in particular their fathers. The expectations
and demands of masculinity haunt and shape their lives in a way that
inevitably leads to agony for them and those around them, and this is
where I think their tales most closely mirror Greek tragedy. Inevitably,
each man experiences a painful 'catharsis' that dramatically reshapes
What I find truly unique about this documentary is its focus on the
masculine experience, how our parents and our backgrounds can set our
lives in seemingly irreversible directions, and how the sometimes crushing demands of manhood can overwhelm any other motivation. Intending to do a documentary on Euripides, Jessica Yu reminds us that Greek tragedy, too often relegated to required reading for disinterested high schoolers, is still incredibly relevant to contemporary life.