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There’s an old saying; if you can’t do something good, do it weird. Protagonist follows four people and their experiences in faith. Set to an operatic tone and animated with a Greek undertone, the documentary follows four threads of people and their life experiences. Inspired by the works of Euripedes, the film uses quotes from his plays as thematic chapter headings while reenacting moments with wooden rod puppets, modeled after ancient Greek theater masks. It’s an interesting film from a story-telling perspective but strays towards the weird more often than the good.
The film’s primary focus is on the life journeys of four men. Mark P is a former homosexual trying to help gay people become straight. Joe is a former bank robber who turned his life around. Mark S is a martial arts instructor. Hans-Joachim is a former left-wing radical from Germany. All four have different odysseys with their life, finding a path through various problems of their lives.
The stories are really fascinating as well; all four men have very passionate stories about the nature of faith and how they came to where they are now in life. When the film focuses on letting them discuss their stories, including using archival footage from the past as well as from some pop culture moments, their stories come alive when the men talk about it. Mark S’s story is markedly hilarious as he talks about his martial arts instruction early on, including a terrific story about a situation his instructor uses to show him something at the time he considered profound is in retrospect revoltingly funny.
The problem is the film’s moments where the focus goes toward the big set pieces, so to speak, with the sort of operatic nature that appears to be profound but is really awful. It takes the good energy from the film and flushes it away; they’re well done but they’re such a distraction that it takes away from their terrific production value and harms the film irreparably. While the reenactments of certain events is worth it, the long pieces that have nothing to do with the stories take away a lot from the film. It’s a case of something being weird for the sake of as opposed to being weird for a purpose.
When it comes to documentaries, 2007 hasn’t had that many that are worth watching in any respect. One can add Protagonist to that list. While the stories are good, the film’s use of unnecessary story aspects to split up parts of the story is a disaster.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):