TIFF 2015: Full Contact
New this year at the festival is the Platform section, a juried competition focused on a selection of 12 films that exemplifies director’s cinema and vision, with the winner being awarded a $25,000 prize. Director David Verbeek is competing in this programme with his new film Full Contact. The director freely admits that it is a difficult film but if the viewer sticks with it, they are rewarded with a haunting exploration of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and guilt.
Ivan (Grégoire Colin) is a drone pilot working in the Nevada desert. He is given orders to take out terrorist targets using drone strikes. However, one of his targets is not a training facility as he had been told but instead a school for young boys which he has just blown up. Ivan becomes weighed down by the remorse of what he has done. He tries to hide the psychological trauma he is facing and refuses to get help. He begins acting out by riding his motorcycle recklessly, picks up a stripper named Cindy (Lizzie Brocheré) from a local club frequented by soldiers, and spends hours in contemplative silence. Eventually the PTSD gets to him and he mentally breaks down. In order to heal, he must face his feelings head on and battle through them to reach the other side. He finds himself in several locations fighting against real isolation and metaphorical demons. With the help of this woman he has met, he can finally find himself again and rehabilitate his mind.
This is not a film a lot of people will enjoy. At times it is a slow-moving experimental art house film that is hard to stand. However, if the viewer is paying attention to what is happening and what the director and actors are trying to convey, and they understand what is happening to this character then it becomes a hypnotic discussion about how we face the guilt we all have in our lives.
After the bombing incident and Ivan is reeling from his regret, he makes a series of pilgrimages through his mind that allow him to fight through what is holding him hostage. He spends time on an isolated island, having gotten rid of his pet spider and worldly possessions as a way to strip down to the basics of his being. He must tear himself completely down before he can build himself back up. He receives unexpected assistance through this journey from a stray dog that guides him. He also battles the mental demons in his head by imaging himself facing each of the terrorists he bombed by gunning them down, metaphorically killing them in his brain. He then also takes up boxing training to teach himself to be a fighter and as physical punishment for the sins he has committed. When he is finally ready to fight, he has been reborn. He can find peace and solace in his relationship with Cindy and this new outlook on life. Grégoire Colin delivers a complex performance as Ivan and it’s not often we see this level of vulnerability from a male character.
This is an excellent film for what it is, for those that enjoy films with heavy symbolism but it is not easily accessible and a casual movie-going audience will not enjoy it. It is a challenging niche film that threatens to lose its audience due to the structure of the story and the artistic choices the director elected to us to execute the story.