Saturday, 7 November 2009

johnny mad dog (d. jean-stéphane sauvaire)

It's been nearly a week since I saw Johnny Mad Dog. He's a blurred memory, strolling through a Liberian hinterland, wreaking havoc and waiting for havoc to catch up with him.

There's nothing sympathetic about him, and in a way that's the film's redeeming feature. Johnny Mad Dog occupies similar territory to Sin Nombre. The woes of the underdeveloped world brought to a screen near you. However, unlike Sin Nombre, Sauvaire's film has no cute storyline to alleviate Johnny and his crew's relentless violence. This is senseless violence, which goes on and on, and if the director was seeking to portray something of the life of a Liberian child soldier, this might be the only way of doing it with any kind of authenticity.

Except that this is art, not a documentary. Which can make a bear out of a cloud or a pearl from a clod. In its relentless search to convey a kind of reality, Johnny Mad Dog perhaps tries too hard, stringently resisting the transformative potential of art/ cinema to let its audience get inside the mind of the child who's been brainwashed into becoming a killer. In which sense the movie ultimately feels trapped between two stools, wanting to engage with subject matter the world would rather not know about, yet fearful of seeming to be exploitative in its bid to bring the child soldiers to a wider audience, working as hard as it can to ensure they're never loveable, that the heart strings of pop superstars shall not be tugged.

It's a hard balance to pull off. I don't see it as wrong that Sauvaire should have had a go, but as fireworks pepper the London skyline in a Guy Fawkes frenzy, I'm not sure if Johnny Mad Dog has left me much the wiser as to what it would be like if feral children patrolled the streets playing with the real firecrackers, the ones that aren't just for show.

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