Jesse Eisenberg, Alessandro Nivola and, Imogen Poots star in this bizarre and unusual story. The Art of Self Defense is one of many new film releases that screened at this years’ Fantasia Film Festival 2019. I knew just from the cast I would like it. I just didn’t know how much. I’ve never heard of its writer-director Riley Stearns nor any of the titles he’s attributed to. After this, I’ll be looking to see some.
Are you a fan of films with bleak and oddly structured narratives? Like those from Yorgos Lanthimos, for example, The Art Of Self Defense is probably going to be something you’ll appreciate. Since first watching my first Yorgos just last year, he’s become, my all-time favorite Director. Finding something akin to his style while being its own unique vehicle is like finding a white unicorn in a snowstorm.
Tap or Take a Nap
The story begins with Casey. A mild-mannered accountant who always toes the line. Immediately an orchestration of reactions proves that Casey views the world as something he needs to be prepared for. He overhears a French couple talking sh*t about him in a cafe and the next scene involves him learning French. The thing is, you don’t know how long he’d been learning French as he doesn’t defend himself against the two, but it’s likely he knew exactly what they were saying. And it wasn’t nice at all.
The way in which to survive the world we live in is to be prepared. He’s almost like an everyday scout hero. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this story though, Casey serves as the catalyst for every thought you’ve ever had about whether or not you can really ever protect yourself.
Imogen Poots: “Remember, You’re Punching His Nose Up Into His Brain”
Imogen Poots plays Anna and takes a back seat to the testosterone while struggling for— shotgun. Her presence a timely reminder that women just don’t have hands as strong as men. Sometimes you’ll feel like the messages being flogged are coming at you like foot punches. But I liked it.
I liked the portrayal that the struggle is real. Sometimes you can do everything required to be tough. You can listen to speed metal and decide on a German Shepherd instead of the sausage dog. Get angry and join in with the office jerks and initiate push-ups but at the end of the day, you’ll still get pushed over by the guy in the carpark because after all, you’re just a yellow belt.
“I Realized She’d Never Be a Man Because she’s a Woman”
There are all sorts of societal agendas. Those that strike a chord; with words like masculine toxicity, the concept that metal makes people aggressive and other concepts perpetuated in society that you’ll feel skate across your mind. This film is about how Casey embarks on a quest to become; a mans’ man. How do you find the things that make you feel worthy in today’s world, you’ll ask yourself. And Casey will attempt to show you some avenues within a Karate Kid type world that’s mashed up against a Fight Club one.
[Stearns] isn’t trying to prop one form of masculinity above another. He’s dismantling the concept altogether.writer-director Riley Stearns
Master of Fists
Casey wanders into a Karate dojo one afternoon, having spent some time in hospital after being savagely beaten by a group of motorcycle helmet-wearing thugs. Had he not run out of dog food for his miniature dachshund, he wouldn’t have been walking the streets at night. Alessandro Nivola’s mysterious Sensai approaches him and tells him that “the hardest part of the Karate journey is walking through the door.” Later that same short conversation will be remembered more ominously than the Jaws insignia music before the shark appears.
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Sensai’s character and everything else that happens have the same tenacity as a pressure cooker that you didn’t set. Let’s say someone asked you to watch one not knowing what was inside it except the promise of something sensational. When you finally get to pop that lock and all the steam comes out, similarly is the finale for this film.
When you catch up with everything that’s happened along the way and Casey’s universe seems to have been tipped upsidedown, comeuppance is awarded. Not in the way you anticipated though and if you love a film that is as liberal with dark humor as it is with shocking your pants off, then add this to your watchlist because it just might be one of your favorites this year. And don’t expect the triumphant conclusion either, this one is not a mood lifter even though it will make you laugh and feel wrong for doing so.
I give The Art of Self Defense
4.75 tap or take a nap out of 5