Thursday, 12 July 2007
Monkey Warfare (2006) dir. Reg Harkema
Starring: Don McKellar, Tracy Wright and Nadia Litz
“Monkey Warfare” a small scale film about the odd and quirky lifestyle of urban garbage pickers. Centred in the urban decay of Toronto’s West End Parkdale district, it has special relevance to me as a resident of the neighbourhood. The film succeeds because it knows its limits and doesn’t stretch beyond its means in terms of storytelling and budget, and it uses just enough dry humour to keep a smile on your face the entire film.
Dan (Don McKellar) and Linda (Tracy Wright) are garbage pickers who make a living riding their bicycles around the neighbourhood raiding garbage bins, lawns, alleyways and garage sales of unwanted junk in hopes of finding rare collectibles to sell on ebay for income. It’s a lifestyle for the duo who are roomates but may or may not be in a relationship – for most of the film it’s left ambiguous.
Dan and Linda live hand-to-mouth and on a fine line between petty criminals and making a legitimate living. They seem to have two purposes in life 1) to make their rent and 2) to buy pot. Making the rent is easy because their landlord hasn’t raised the rent in years and he never comes around to check up on them. Buying pot is more difficult, both money and supply has shrunk and they’re desperate to make a score.
One day a young and vivacious gal Susan (Nadia Litz) shows up in the neighbourhood with some weed to sell. Dan buys some and discovers she’s the last line in a chain of pot dealers back to BC. They strike up a friendship that brings her closer to the sacred Dan/Linda lifestyle/relationship they’ve nurtured for years and years. Though their relationship has been running on empty for a long time, Linda feels threatened by the third person. An attraction between Dan and Susan is there but it's never overt. Dan is clearly repressed sexually and would love to jump her bones, but Susan seems content to toy with him. I must note the brilliant scene when Dan fixes Susan's bike, the overt sexual innuendo make it one of the funniest moments on film this year.
As Susan becomes better friends with Dan, he opens up to her about his love for 60’s urban guerilla lore and his ex-revolutionary background. She becomes fascinated and develops desires to express her inner urban terrorist. Her actions escalate into real terrorism which threatens Dan and Linda’s humble and quiet, ‘sellout’, lifestyle.
“Monkey Warfare” is anchored by the fascinating lifestyle of the garbage picker. The world Harkema opens up to the audience is new and fresh. Dan and Linda aren’t homeless or mentally ill, they are intelligent people who are content with the frugalities of subculture urban living. They don’t own a phone, don’t have a TV, they listen to old 45s on a turntable and only work when they absolutely need to pay the rent.
The film is also anchored by the always charming Don McKellar. His look, reactions, movements and manner of speech are so distinctive he’s always interesting. Don and Reg slowly reveal Dan's character to us, as he is revealed to Susan. He’s guarded and for good reason. The final revelatory conversation about his history with real urban terrorism is a great speech and cathartic after 60mins of quiet unemotional chatter.
Reg Harkema uses the 60’s counter culture films as “..If”, “Hi Mom!” as his influences. An editor by trade, he clearly uses the cutting style of the 60’s and makes interesting obscure choices for music. His interfilm titles and credits sequences add to the psychedelic feel.
The film is as laconic as the pot smokers in the film and as mentioned doesn’t over-extend itself into twist-endings or melodramatic relationship betrayals. It plays itself as a matter-of-fact microscopic look into a very very subsection of urban life. And hey, at 1hour and 17 mins, you can watch the film without taking up a large portion of the day. So pick through the shelves of your local blockbuster or counterculture video store and find "Monkey Warfare". Enjoy.
No this isn’t a fan video. This is actually a montage in the middle of the film: