Big Smash! Outsider Asylum presents Outsider Asylum presents:
Helena Trestikova’s René
Thursday, March 25 at 8:00PM
Ellice Theatre (587 Ellice)
Admission $5 / $2 DOC members + students w/ valid ID

A petty crime as a teenager earned René a prison sentence, and set him off on life of crime. Misanthropic, intelligent and introspective, he spends his life in and out of prison, struggling to fit in anywhere in the quickly changing Czech Republic. Veteran film maker Helena Trestikova began filming René in 1989, and kept up with him over the next two decades, even after he robbed her flat. Their collaboration, and his brief fame as a documentary star, spur him to writing, and he becomes a published author. Yet the demons driving him remain. This engrossing film takes us on a journey of a life lived outside of society. As his rap sheet lengthens, his body tattoos multiply, a visual testimony to the anger fueling his blighted life. His letters to Trestikova and access to the many cells which he calls home enhance this must-see film.

– Kier-La Janisse


From Uptown Magazine March 25, 2010:

Inside a personal hell
On the surface, Helena Trestikova’s René is a powerful documentary about an aging convict — but it’s also about so much more

Some souls, quite simply, cannot be saved. Such is the sometime tragic nature of human society, as this exceptional documentary makes powerfully clear.

Rene Plasil embodies the notion of hell being a place within, to which we condemn ourselves. In 1989, as a teenager in Czechoslovakia, he makes stupid choices that land him in jail. Almost 20 years later, nothing’s changed. It’s clear he knows better. Yet he seems resigned to self-destruction.

René, which won the 2008 Prix ARTE award from the European Film Academy, is the record of that life path. It’s extraordinary, when you step back and consider the film’s chronology. Hollywood epics sometimes span the decades, but it’s another thing to witness real life unfolding, year after year.

Plasil is incorrigible. Yet he’s not a hateful person, either. He’s a criminal, but not a violent one — although that’s small comfort to the people he’s robbed over the years. He’s intelligent, philosophical, capable of self-criticism. But he’s never able to change.

Why is he like this? Why is any person the way they are? Psychologists will tell you there are multiple factors. I’d speculate his father’s rejection during his formative years had something to do with it, compelling him to devalue himself.

René would have us believe his mother didn’t want him either, but from what we see, there’s never a sense she doesn’t care. That Rene can’t recognize her love is the other half of the problem: his pervasive self-pity.

He’s doomed, in his mind. He doesn’t believe he can live any other way, though he may want to. Age eventually grants him greater maturity, but by then he may simply be too old to reform.

Every time he tastes straight success, he seems scared by it. Very likely he messes up on purpose, simply to avoid the anxieties of the unknown — which, in his case, is life outside prison.

René is also intriguing for another reason: the way it shows how documentarians can become part of their own material, by inadvertently influencing their subjects. On account of the ongoing project, Plasil becomes a Czech celebrity and a published author. He admits the film has added purpose to his life.

With that in mind, the film is as much about director Helena Trestikova’s relationship with Plasil as it is about Plasil himself. Yet that very relationship once again illuminates the film’s ostensible subject.

It’s unclear whether Plasil would have published were it not for Trestikova. It’s reasonable to assume he might’ve: what excerpts we’re given from his work indicate the insight of a true writer. Yet Plasil, not surprisingly, has his doubts.

Documentaries can be harder to write about, because real life is always more complex than fictional conventions. Good docs are relentlessly thought provoking — they really force you to reflect. Sometimes I’m still thinking after I’ve filed the review.

René is a doc like that. Even if you can’t sympathize with Plasil, you should be able to understand him— and, by extension, what makes some criminal minds tick. It’s a worthy accomplishment.

– Kenton Smith


~ by cineflyer on March 15, 2010.

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