Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 5 minutes | Release Date: 2015 (Canada)
Studio: National Film Board of Canada
Director(s): Howie Shia
Writer(s): Howie Shia

While Howie Shia‘s aesthetic is accurately labeled gritty, that grit is less about being aggressive or “dirty” than it is about lending it an experimental film beauty gorgeous to behold against polished Hollywood studio fare. Just like its main character, BAM becomes a powder keg of duality with its two halves clashing to create something wholly unique and impossible to categorize. Greek Gods in giant blue form loom over the proceedings as the young boy they watch wrestles with an implicit brute force he cannot reconcile against a quiet contemplative desire to do good. It’s a struggle that makes his most selfless moments manifest as much or more fear in those witnessing his actions than when he’s at his most selfish. That rage cultivates his compassion and suppresses it in one flew swoop.

A contemporary urban retelling of Hercules at its core, Shia’s grungy style conjures images of Keith Haring‘s work with a Cubist spin—especially with the larger Gods slumped and curved. The paint wipes and ink smears signifying a subway train’s speed delivers brilliant design that speaks via form and material, retaining its artifice just as its man-made rendering evolves into something beyond mere representation. We become consumed by this black and white lined world, wondering about the flourishes of blue seen floating inside and outside the central boxer moving from childhood to teen years to a career and ultimately love. The color soon proves his reservoir of immortal strength, growing as the years pass until discovering he’ll do anything for it to drain away from his soul. The epitome of the bully archetype, he’s simultaneously fearsome and frightened.

Sans dialogue in lieu of music composed by his brothers Leo (hip-hop artist LEO37) and Tim instilling a sense of metallic masculinity rising in volume with anger and softening with remorse, BAM hinges on its visuals and character nuance to understand what’s on display. The cuts from instigation to eyes sharpening and fists coiling to his quick burst of violence culminating in a tragic look by those watching that screams, “He’s a monster!” perfectly encapsulate the aggression he cannot subdue. His menacing face in the ring juxtaposed with a small smile alongside his better half depicts the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic we all combat at some point in our lives. The worst fear possible is the one pointed within—that uncertainty in whether we can stop being what society deems we must despite perpetually being to our detriment.

courtesy of TIFF

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