Sunday, June 17, 2012

At AFI Silverdocs: Jukka Kärkkäinen's & J-P Passi's crockbuster THE PUNK SYNDROME

We're always looking for something new, right? And these days documentaries seems to be dishing up nouvelle with alarming regularity. Still, I warrant you won't have seen anything quite like THE PUNK SYNDROME,(Kovasikajuttu in the original Finnish) a new film from Jukka Kärkkäinen and J-P Passi that has its U.S. premiere this coming week at the AFI Silverdocs festival.

OK: Punk bands are new to neither narrative nor documentary filmmaking. But this punk band? Decidedly. Our four fellows -- above, from left to right: Kari, Pertti, Sami and Toni -- are mentally and even, I think you could argue, physically disabled by Down Syndrome and other disabilities. And yet they make music (not being a fan of punk rock, I wouldn't quite call it that). But, hell -- they're as good as a lot of other skunk punk that I've encountered. Really, they don't sound half-bad, at least when the two elders in the group (Kari and Pertti, below) can remember how many choruses and verses there are in a particular song.

The filmmakers -- shown below: That's J-P Passi at left, with Jukka Kärkkäinen doing the pointing -- catch these guys in all sorts of activities, from composing lyrics ("How do you spell 'human being'," one asks the other) to the prelude to lovemakling ("Darling, you'll get some when they leave," Kari tells his girl, a propos the camera crew). Pertti's diary set to lyrics and music becomes something quite sad and wonderful. Soon after, however, Pertti is told that he smells like shit and asked if he has changed his underwear lately. (And so he does, in front of us -- which should send into rapture any guys or gals who have a thing for full-frontal nude seniors.)

While the music often sounds quite alike from song to song, as the film progresses and we hear more of it, there is indeed some noticeable difference, the band's lyrics -- which we can clearly understand because of the English subtitles -- are full of anger and sorrow. This is not unusual with punk bands, but in this case the anger is directed at society for reasons that are perhaps easier to understand and appreciate.

We've often been told about the link between genius and insanity. Now we seem to find one between disability and creativity. Along the way, Sami (above) helps a local politician with her election campaign, while Kari (below) tries to reschedule his pedicure. When he can't, he grows disproportionately angry -- but then offers the best song we've heard (so far, at least) to his pedicurist!

We spend some time with Toni, the band's drummer (below) and his parents, as they and others try to get him to move to a group home. Nothing doing. But then, when we see that home, and some of its occupants, particularly one young lady, Toni is all for it.

We're there soon after for the birth of a healthy baby -- not in Pertti's family, as I had originally imagined, but (as the film's PR person has pointed out) to Kalle, the social worker in whose cultural center the band was begun and where its members rehearse. We see what this birth means to our group (it leads Pertti, below, to speak about the death of his mother). I would have liked to have learned more about the group's patient and forbearing manager, Kalla Pajamaa -- who tells Pertti that playing in the band has made an old speech defect of his disappear. Instead, we stick close only to the band members themselves.

"One must take care of both business and women," notes Kari, at one point, and soon after the band leaves for its first trip across the water to Germany, where it scores something of a hit. And yet those disabilities remain, lending the band's actions and songs, as well as the movie itself, an almost constant slap of reality (in addition to the ever-present poignancy). One-of-a-kind and very much worth seeing, The Punk Syndrome deserves to be picked up for U.S. distribution in some manner or other: theatrical, DVD, VOD or streaming.

 At Silverdocs, the film will screen on Tuesday, June 19, 
at 10:45pm in the AFI Silver Theatre 3; 
on Wednesday, June 20, it will be shown 
at 4:45pm in AFI Silver Theatre 1. 
Co-director J-P Passi will be present at both screenings.

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