JIMFF 2012 Review: PUNK'S NOT DEAD
Each of us loves different styles of music. Our tastes are informed by many factors: style, geography, language, instrumentation, tempo, etc. We fill our computers and smartphones with these (more ardent enthusiasts may still curate record collections). However, some people will go to extra lengths to associate themselves to a certain style. They may customize their appearance or ascribe to particular ideologies. Politics and social issues can come into it but other times the music might be a gateway to something else entirely: community. The need to belong is strong and for those of us that cannot or do not want to follow the status quo, there is always a danger of being marginalized. Luckily, in this day and age, we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pick and choose from many different lifestyles. Non-conformity no longer comes with the same stigma as it once did.
As the title suggests, Punk's Not Dead is a film about one of the most abrasive genres of music to emerge in the modern era. However, very luck little punk music is actually featured in the film and that's because the focus thing here is on the sense of community that is created around the music. The protagonists are lost: wandering aimlessly in the decrepit landscape of modern Macedonia. Pushing 40, they are looking a little rough around the edges: leather jackets cover their wearied shoulders; piercings and tattoos adorn their wrinkled skin. They have lived life but time has passed them by and new circumstances have rendered them redundant and mute: their protests are now a whimper of what they once were. Rather than living the punk lifestyle and reveling in anarchy, they merely cling to the scene as a pretext for their existence. It is a social outlet in a world where few are available to them, the booze and drugs are a respite from the bleak landscape there are immersed in.
Mirsa is an ageing punk rocker whose glory days have long since passed him by. He lives with his mother in a dank apartment, siphoning electricity from the neighbors. He sells a little pot on the side but money is hard come by in his hometown, the Macedonian capital Skopje. One day an Albanian acquaintance asks him to assemble his old punk band back together to play a concert in Albania. Initially hesitant, the promise of a little money and of reliving his prime eventually prompts his acceptance. He and his friend try to find their old bandmates and after an old flame comes back into his life, pregnant with someone's else's child, they all embark on an odyssey through former Yugoslavia.
I'm not overly familiar with the Balkans conflicts but it's not hard to see that this film acts as an allegory for the reunification of Yugoslavia. Though rather than focus on specifics, Punk's Not Dead approaches its political and social aims in the guise of a niche but popular movement. Furthermore, its themes of acceptance, community and freedom are universal.
I would not like to live like the main protagonists here do. Their kind of lifestyle does not appeal to me. However, the solidarity they experience together has its allure and brings us closer the them, their plight and their journey. Credit must be given to the wonderful and grizzled cast whose earthy physiognomies transport us swiftly into the narrative but it is the careful balance they achieve between despair, irreverence and their infectious lust for life that make this film a minor triumph.
Punk's Not Dead is a road movie with a proper narrative, a music film more concerned with characters than instruments, a socially-conscious work that isn't mired in context and pretension. In short, it is well worth your time.