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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Review: The True Adventures of Wolfboy

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- A queer coming of age story, both fantastical and raw, premieres Out of Competition at KVIFF

GoCritic! Review: The True Adventures of Wolfboy
Jaeden Martell and Chris Messina in The True Adventures of Wolfboy

Czech director Martin Krejčí’s debut feature The True Adventures of Wolfboy, deeply engages viewers in a world of harsh reality and vigorous imagination as it tells the story of a boy who fights the feelings of rejection he has felt his whole life. An American production by people behind Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Suspiria [+see also:
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(2018), the film will probably have a good run at festivals both in Europe and North America. Chloë Sevigny, although only appearing briefly at the end of the film, will meanwhile attract indie-savvy audiences.

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Jaeden Martell plays Paul, a boy who suffers from congenital hypertrichosis - a condition that stimulates excessive hair growth all over his face and body. On the night of his 13th birthday, he decides to run away from home to search for the mother whom he has never met. Paul indeed experiences a true adventure, as he get into mischief with other misfits – like transgender girl Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore) who becomes crucial for his rediscovery of self-love. Then there is Rose (Eve Hewson), an eyepatched “pirate queen” who lives in her car and has a knack for armed robbery. Chased down by both carnival operator Mr. Silk (John Turturro), and police detective Pollock (Michelle Wilson), this unlikely crew expresses their dissatisfaction with their positions in society very outwardly (and sometimes illegally).

The narrative is structured as a seven-chapter fairy tale, as we witness the hero’s journey encouraged or disparaged by mermaids, pirate queens and Disneyesque villains who occasionally perform lip-synch (instead of bursting into song as they usually do in filmic portrayals of fairy-tales). Set in the poor American suburbs, The True Adventures does not fall into the category of the typical middle-class teenage film with the commonplace message that it’s important to love yourself.

“Queer” is truly a key word in describing this film, as it explores identities – both in the sense of the characters it depicts and the genres it encompasses – that step away from the norm. It’s a magical story set in a gritty environment, featuring heroic characters with frustration-fuelled outbursts of aggression and even sometimes an almost Freudian desire to kill one’s parents. Magic queers reality – and vice versa, thus not allowing either to mould the story into well-known clichés.

Writer Olivia Dufault takes the bold step of giving insight and authenticity to the characters by bringing to the surface thoughts and actions which are often deeply buried in the subconscious – although some of the results of this approach stretch our credulity. Giannamore gives a tremendous performance, displaying many layers of her character; Aristiana conveys the impression of a drag-queen who’s been around the block and as such is wise beyond her teenage years.

Krejčí has made a name for himself in the world of advertising, and as usually happens with directors of similar background, this film makes a dazzling visual impact. DoP Andrew Droz Palermo manages to present the landscapes of run-down American neighbourhoods in a carefully aestheticised manner that suits and enriches the narrative. Editor Joseph Krings’s sharp and precise cuts give the picture a fast-paced rhythm that enthrals the viewers. Finally, there is no magic without music: the score, both original (by Nick Urata) and borrowed, perfectly underlines the bitter-sweet atmosphere of the film.

The True Adventures of Wolfboy is really a breath of fresh air in the way it tackles social topics of this particular economic milieu (which is not often represented on screen), such as discrimination and the problems of growing up. The fact that these situations are approached honestly, amusingly and emotionally makes this film a sugar-free delight.

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