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Disco Boy

With a name like Disco Boy, you could expect a film akin to Saturday Night Fever, or one with a little bit of boogying at least. But no, this Disco Boy is a completely contrasting film to anything like it, and yet, it’s difficult to understand what it exactly is, or what it’s trying to be.

The feature film debut from Italian filmmaker Giacomo Abbruzzese which premiered at Berlinale in 2023 is a strange one, to say the least. With no real identity to it, this story about a Belarusian man heading for France so he can join the French Foreign Legion will leave you scratching your head long after it has finished, and for most of its 90-minute runtime as well. However, Disco Boy does offer enough intrigue to pique an interest at least, which does keep you watching.


After a painful journey through Europe, Aleksei arrives in Paris to join the Foreign Legion. Meanwhile, in the Niger Delta, Jomo struggles against the oil companies threatening his village and the lives of his family.


Franz Rogowski stars as Alexei, who, along with friend Mikhail (Michał Balicki), have fled from their native Belarus (through some questionable means) and have their sights firmly set on entering France so they can join the French Foreign Legion. Their travels offer up a lot of dangers though and it’s not long before Alexei has found himself alone during this ordeal. Determi ned to finish his mission though, Alexei arrives in France and joins the ranks of the Legion with hundreds of other lost men looking for a new life under French rule. Meanwhile, in the Niger Delta, a young rebel leader called Jomo (Morr Ndiaye) and his sister Udokam (Laetitia Ky) attempt to look after their war-torn village as it tries to survive the hardships of post-colonialism.

Alexei quickly rises through the military training (if that’s what you call it) with a handful of others to become a soldier in the French Foreign Legion, something that he and his earlier comrade had dreamed of. Alexsei’s next stop is Africa, Nigeria to be precise, where he and his new brothers-in-arms must find and rescue a group of French nationals who have been kidnapped by Jomo and the other rebels. The sequences that follow are full of confusion, strange narrative and filmmaking choices, which quickly force you to lose any fascination you once had.

Disco Boy

Disco Boy’s troubles are down to a lack of identity due to it never being too sure what it’s trying to be - it really does become tired and repetitive for large parts. Take the training montages for instance; sequences that fill up a large majority of the first act that could have been taken from any war film of the past 40 years. The only aspect that offers any vigour is a pretty badass score filled with experimental electronic music that lifts the slower parts into the 21st century. This score does take the film to another level, and it makes you realise that the work done by French music producer Vitalic is indeed, the film's greatest strength, and by some margin as well.

Abbruzzese clearly had an aim of creating a film with an incredibly experimental mise-en-scène that showcases his skill as a filmmaker. But there’s another objective, and it’s a politically infused one regarding the Legion itself and its questionable history. Some of it is a lot more on the nose than other parts, but the general portrayal of ‘we’ll basically take anyone who can walk’ is all that needs to be said. Creatively though, it does have a lot of imagination to its imagery, which is a credit to the work of cinematographer Hélène Louvart whose skill has already defined her as a more than assured hand in the industry. The colours that illuminate the Parisian club scenes for instance are mesmerising, and then coupled with the score, it becomes a hypnotic barrage for the senses.

Disco Boy

The decision to intertwine the stories of the two men feels largely underwhelming though, and dare I say it... even a little feigned. They have been forced together by the filmmaker to create another layer to the narrative; their meeting becomes brief, and the aftermath is inconclusive and a slightly unconvincing head-scratcher. It was structured this way for a reason, but that reason never becomes clear, and no number of hallucinations and well-choreographed dancing will ever fix that, unfortunately, even if they are easy on the eye. The narrative itself could be emotional as it is one about the loss of family and friends, and maybe that is why these characters were written to be connected in this way, but it never delivers that assuring spiritual finale that it promises.

You could say that Disco Boy fails due to the filmmaker's own need to fluff out his own feathers by trying to be too much of everything and not enough of something specific. To be culturally appropriate was another of the aims (which it does to an extent, as the Ivorian feminist artist Laetitia Ky’s appearance somewhat cements this) but this representation is overshadowed by the Belarusian’s story because of the lack of screen time, so there was a priority to be had it seems. It does feel like a failure though, which is a shame seeing as the tools were there to turn it into something decent; a stellar lead performance and cool technical aspects are just not enough to carry a film that has an unimaginative and dull story, unfortunately.


Rating Disco Boy



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