Monday, July 8, 2019

“The Art of Self-Defense” – Can Karate Cure Loneliness in a Hyper-masculine World?

By José Alberto Hermosillo
“The Art of Self-Defense” is a hilarious dark comedy you don’t want to miss, quirky. One of the best independent films of the year! The performances of Jessie Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, and Imogen Poots are remarkable!

Not so long ago, Meryl Streep said, there is no art in football and Mixed Martial-Arts. Many around the world won’t agree - not even Casey (Jessie Eisenberg), who, after a random violent attack, enrolls in karate lessons.
The Art of Self-Defense Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street Media
By submerging himself in this shadowy world of Martial-Arts, Casey will try to gain self-confidence, strength, and a more manly personality.

At the dojo, he gets welcomed by Anna (Imogen Poots). She is a confident young but alienated karate instructor. For being a woman, she is relegated to teach children in the mornings, instead of participating in the evening competitions against men. Those combats could get her closer to her ultimate goal, a well-earned black belt.
The Art of Self-Defense Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street Media
The grandmaster is Sensei (Alessandro Nivola). His strange and magnetic personality makes him look that he wants to be in control all the time. His captivating charm lures Casey into his business, for a mind and body training.

When actor Alessandro Nivola read Riley Sterns’ extraordinary script, he thought it was original, intricate, and somehow controversial, critical ingredients for an independent film to succeed. In the screenplay, he saw the importance to emphasize the dialogues with personal tones.
The Art of Self-Defense Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street Media
Nivola was worried about learning karate in four days rather than incorporating complicated long sentences into his part. During the shooting, Nivola took a deep breath, learned his lines, and delivered them the best he could. Nivola is terrific playing a low-key psycho:

“Kick with your fist, punch with your feet.”
“Karate is a way of communicating.”
“Never hold back; it makes you weak.”

Sensei is a master in the art of manipulation. He articulates a sinister plan to keep up with his image and to thrive business into his martial arts school.
Alessandro Nivola. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo
Alessandro Nivola undertones his character to make it more realistic. By controlling his kingdom and minions, Sensei enjoys playing God with subtle cruelty – similar to Ed Harris in “The Truman Show” (1998). A performance that earned Harris a Best Supporting Actor nomination for an Oscar that year.
The Art of Self-Defense - Arclight display. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
In “The Art of Self-Defense,” director Riley Stearns explores “male loneliness” accurately and makes his actors move up to the next level. Christian Bale in “The Machinist accomplished similar interpretation and Jack Plotnick in “Wrong” by Quentin Dupieux.
The Art of Self-Defense - Arclight display. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
Jessie Eisenberg performing this lonesome character is insightful. His impotence and frustrations are evident in every action. His passive/aggressive personality grows bigger until he becomes the person he means to be.

Jessie Eisenberg in "The Art of Self-Defense" is not a "Rocky," but he can pull out one hell of a show.

The secret in this movie is to discover how the behavior of an Almighty and powerful character affects everyone, and how the rest of the group could eventually counterattack. 

In a cruel world, and we must make the best of it. After you see “The Art of Self-Defense,” you may think twice about signing up for karate lessons.  

Alessandro Nivola, actor. Film critic José Alberto  Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019
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1 comment:

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