________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 30 . . . . April 9, 2010


Late Fragment. [An Interactive Film].

Daryl Cloran, Anita Doron & Mateo Guez (Writers & Directors). Anita Lee & Anna Serrano  (Producers). Silva Basmajian & Anna Serrano (Executive Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
180 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9107 139.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Julie Chychota.

***1/2 /4


Thousands of paths through the same story? (From the Introduction)


Dark and disturbing, Late Fragment relinquishes piece by piece the stories of Faye, Theo, and Kevin, three individuals whose lives have been irrevocably shattered by violent crimes. Their participation in a restorative justice program precipitates their tenuous connection to each other. A great deal of credit belongs to the actors for playing their roles so as to portray the characters as vulnerable, sympathetic figures, regardless of whether they are victims or offenders. Yet it is its emphasis on audience interaction that makes this alternative drama "groundbreaking" (DVD jacket). Not only does the film ask viewers to puzzle out the chronology of the concatenated sequences, but also it grants them control of advancing the action with a click of the remote.

     As a means of visually acquainting viewers with its main characters at the outset, Late Fragment kaleidoscopically cycles through three short scenes. In the first scene, a teenage girl tremulously points a gun at a man in bed. After she fires, the large silver disk of her necklace reflects the man clutching his throat as blood exits his mouth. The picture switches to show a young man (Theo) propped against a shower stall, drawing a knife across his torso. Drops of blood commingle with the water against the tiles before being swept down the drain. Next, the camera cuts to a middle-aged man (Kevin) seated in front of a window. A patrol car pulls up, and a police officer exits. The man slowly rises and crosses the room to open the front door in response to the officer's knock. The camera then revisits the first scene where a woman (Faye) grieves over the lifeless body in a pool of blood on the floor. The stories thus begin in medias res, and viewers soon become privy to scenes that flesh out these climactic moments.

     As the opening sequence establishes, the predominant atmosphere that extends throughout Late Fragment is sombre, brooding, and reticent. Dark and dimly lit spaces reinforce the mood, as does the background music, of which even the lighter selections carry bittersweet emotions. Further contributing to the pensiveness is the minimal dialogue; the film instead privileges actors' facial expressions and body language to convey their fluctuating states of mind. Still, much is left unspoken, including the naming of offenses that have fractured the characters' lives: incest, sexual exploitation, and manslaughter.

     Fortunately for the characters, the restorative justice program's mandate is to help them pick up the pieces. Whereas some initiatives facilitate direct communication between the victim and his or her offender, the restorative justice program depicted in Late Fragment is styled otherwise. It brings together a handful of strangers, of whom approximately half are victims, half offenders. In the physical confines of the correctional facility, moderator-led sessions encourage participants to confront the guilt, shame, and anger that emotionally imprison them so that they may free themselves to move forward. Near the film's conclusion, two reconciliations invoke water as a primal symbol of cleansing and rebirth, suggesting that healing has begun.
Despite a thirty-second introduction, in which one of the cast members explains how to navigate the DVD, Late Fragment's innovative structure is disconcerting nonetheless. Nobody gets away with watching passively. One may choose to click enter to follow the same character's story or opt not to click enter and move between the three main characters' stories, but occasional playback loops oblige viewers to make a choice in order to continue. Furthermore, a viewer can never be certain that watching non-linearly yields the entire story. Since the rewind and fast-forward buttons are disenabled for all but thirty seconds, if viewers click too many times in close succession, it is possible that they may skip over certain fragments, never to return. The film's fragmentation is truly ingenious, however, in that it parallels the ruptured state of its characters' psyches.

     In terms of accessibility, the default setting displays subtitles. Although one is able to turn the subtitles off, they are especially helpful in those instances where the actors' voices fall to near-whispers. Also, the film contains a few lines of spoken French, and subtitles provide the English equivalent for anyone requiring translation.

     Late Fragment is unarguably an innovative and engrossing film. Nevertheless, its subject matter dictates it should be reserved for mature audiences. This film would seem to best match the interests of individuals practicing, studying, or investigating criminology, restorative justice, or filmmaking. An exceptional film, but its rawness is definitely not for the squeamish.

Recommended with reservations.

From 2004 to 2006, Julie Chychota helped international exchange students find practicum placements with restorative justice organizations in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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