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Four men and a little Greek tragedy

Release Date: Sept. 26
Director/Writer/Editor: Jessica Yu
Cinematographers: Karl Hahn, Russell Harper
Starring: Hans-Joachim Klein, Mark Pierpont, Joe Loya, Mark Salzman
Studio/Run Time: IFC Films, 90 mins.

I’ve only seen one of Jessica Yu’s previous films, the disappointing Henry Darger documentary In the Realms of the Unreal (see Paste #14), but Protagonist is in another league entirely.

Like Errol Morris did for his brilliant Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, Yu interviews four men with seemingly unrelated stories: a karate fanatic who was bullied as a child, an evangelist who suppressed his gay feelings, a German terrorist who became disillusioned with violence, and a bank robber. She combines these interviews with such skill that themes begin to emerge, a tangled thicket of men seeking to define themselves through strength, discipline and self-transformation. She neatly uses puppets—yes, puppets—to recreate key scenes from the men’s lives and, even riskier, she breaks the ?lm into sections that relate to Greek tragedy. Initially, the cold recitations of the chorus are jarring next to the fascinating interviews, but by the end it’s clear Yu has found modern examples of human traits that are ancient indeed.