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 and quirky dark comedy you don’t want to miss. It's one of the best independent films of the year! The performances of Jessie Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola, and Imogen Poots are remarkable!

Not long ago, Meryl Streep said there is no art in football and Mixed martial arts. Many worldwide won’t agree - not even Casey (Jessie Eisenberg), who enrolls in karate lessons after a random violent attack.

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 teaching children in the mornings instead of participating in the evening competitions against men. Those combats could get her closer to her goal of 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 lifelike. He wants to be in control. His captivating charm lures Casey into his business for mind and body training.

When actor Alessandro Nivola read Riley Sterns’ great script, he thought it was original, intricate, and somehow controversial. Those are the critical ingredients for an independent film to succeed. In the screenplay, he saw the importance of emphasizing the dialogue 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, knew 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 thrive in business in his martial arts school.

Alessandro Nivola. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo

Alessandro Nivola undertones his character to make it more realistic. Sensei enjoys playing God with subtle cruelty by controlling his kingdom and minions, similar to Ed Harris in “The Truman Show” (1998). A performance that earned Harris an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor 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 accurately explores “male loneliness” and moves his actors to the next level. Christian Bale in “The Machinist accomplished a similar interpretation as Jack Plotnick in the movie called “Wrong” by Quentin Dupieux.

The Art of Self-Defense - Arclight display. Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo. Festival in LA ©2019

Jessie Eisenberg performing the 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.

In “The Art of Self-Defense,” Jessie Eisenberg is not a “Rocky,” but he can pull out 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, we must make the best of it. After seeing “The Art of Self-Defense,” you may think twice about signing up for some excellent karate lessons to steam your life.  

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


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