Death on the Streets finds Minding the Gap’s Zack Mulligan navigating laborious drama


There is a question that hangs over the entirety of Death in the street, Johan Carlsen’s European film about a Self-Destroyed American: Is Kurt (Zack Mulligan, one of the three subjects of Bing Liu’s film Pay attention to the gap his debut as an actor) a failure? To anyone who sees his life with his wife Sarah (Katie Folger), two young sons and an extensive (albeit intrusive) support system, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’. For Kurt, however, there is no wiggle room to believe otherwise. He allowed this belief. He allowed the depression, anger and anxiety created by unemployment as he moved further away from the people who love him. There is an interesting story to these emotions, especially today. Unfortunately, Carlsen and Micah Magee’s script is short.

Part of this truth is the proceeds of the budget. This is a small production using non-actors who often arrive onscreen, hit their target, and deliver their lines before abruptly leaving. Much of the runtime is also filled with scenes trying to convey a sense of belonging despite testing our patience with their content being useless to the story. It would be different if it were a documentary showing a slice of rural Midwestern existence entering the homes of different people. Stopping the narrative halfway to follow a supporting character living his (admittedly captivating) life of a heavy metal lover working painfully on an assembly line because Kurt’s mother wants to ask him if he’s heard from her son. only stretches the already laborious pace.

Most of the reasons it’s not the story of plunging into the emotional and psychological turmoil of so-called “Forgotten Americans” is because she considers Kurt’s proud and partially preventable conflict to be heroic. Example: the scene where a rich White Samaritan offers Kurt a fancy dinner. Would he have done it if Kurt wasn’t so white? I do not know. Kurt is both the rare white man working the unofficial construction work this Samaritan funds and the only homeless (an optical problem that only fuels the far-right idea that the “outsiders” take “their” jobs, especially since we see a number of other minorities in the homeless shelter that Kurt frequents for meals). What does the Samaritan do? He gives Kurt his Purple Heart.

If the act itself is not obvious, the reaction is. After refusing countless attempts from friends and family to lend Kurt money, he takes this undeserved medal with an air of dignity rather than reverence. He takes it as if he deserved it (and the praise people give him on the street). And maybe there is a metaphor there – that non-military Americans also sacrifice their lives – but Kurt’s decision to leave his family behind rather than take a “handout” (Is that a alms if it comes from loved ones?) our collective freedom? No. There are so many stories about the homeless in our country that should be told, but one about a white man too stubborn in his toxic idea of ​​masculinity to accept help, isn’t there.

All the problems on the screen here are in fact the product of the refusal of the so-called “self-made” and “man’s man” workers to accept that our country is suffering from a mental health crisis. The number of issues that could be resolved if men going to therapy were normalized is endless as it would prevent them from constantly imploding their lives (and that of their families) due to the pent-up rage formed by pent-up shame. The gendered culture in which these characters are so archaically embedded has prompted Sarah to ask her father for financial help, telling him to give Kurt money. Not her. They have to cook up a fake scenario where Kurt comes to “fix” something and get paid instead of letting her take the money so as not to “emasculate” him.

This kind of stuff run rampant through Death in the street until parody. I could have accepted the parody, because then it would be about making fun of that attitude and highlighting what needs to change. By presenting it in earnest, the film actually defends this repression. He praises Kurt’s “tough choice” to leave everything behind, embrace his shortcomings and risk his well-being so that he doesn’t become what he’s been told to be unacceptable. By refusing to be a statistic, it guarantees becoming. He’s a man who needs more than a pat on the shoulder of a rich man and a distorted “respect”. Kurt has to accept that failure ultimately brings about change. This is not just a miraculous success by sheer will.

On the bright side: Folger is efficient and Mulligan shows promise, mostly during quiet times with difficult and confusing online deliveries in between. And Carlsen does some things. The melancholy reality of Kurt’s fate is powerful, but only if treated as an uplifting tale rather than a fascinating curiosity. (Carlsen’s press notes glorify America’s socio-economic dysfunction as being “of vital importance” to enabling men like its main character to “come out and have their own death instead of life. of someone else. ”) What could therefore have been an unmasking of the fallacious The myth of the“ boot strap ”unfortunately becomes another misnomer of it. I cannot willfully and blindly accept Kurt’s homelessness as a “laudable” option when this label facilitates the societal conditions that create homelessness for those who have no choice.

Death in the street performs during the second part of the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

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