Aardvark review

:. Director: Kitao Sakurai
:. Starring: Larry L. Lewis Jr., Darren Branch
:. Running Time: 1:20
:. Year: 2010
:. Country: USA, Argentina


A movie about a recovering alcoholic blind man who goes to AA meetings and learn jiu-jitsu isn't exactly the kind of premise that would make you run to the theater. In the hands of writer/director Kitao Sakurai, it however becomes a truly unique work that takes the spectator in surprising directions.

Based on the real-life friendship between the 2 main actors of the film, Aardvark centers on a blind man, Larry (Larry Lewis) who finds excitement when he joins a jiu-jitsu class and strikes a friendship with the instructor. As we follow the friendship between the two men evolves, from the budo to nightlife adventures including drinking and strippers, it becomes clear that the jiu-jistu master has a -- somewhat shady -- double life, which gets confirmed when an unexpected event happens. The story then takes an unexpected turn, from dark comedy to thriller while keeping its oddball tone.

As an alcoholic blind man, Larry is certainly portrayed as an anti-hero, a sort of flawed but gentle giant. The film never pities him, making him a regular character that is as independent and human as everybody else. To represent the isolation associated to his lack of vision, the director uses long contemplative shots, giving in the process a poetic vibe to his picture. The humor is omnipresent and offbeat, not represented by gags but by the absurdity of the situations, in a Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle) kind of way -- see the redneck cop or the martial art instructor playing war like a kid in an abandoned warehouse..

This humor never leaves the movie, not even in this final and darker chapter that takes the film on a more brutal path, thus transcending it from a weird character study to a twisted thriller -- David Lynch (Mulholland Drive review) and Takeshi Kitano (Outrage) come to mind as Larry starts to visit seedy dark clubs, looking for answers, until the rather unsettling ending.

As an amateur actor and real-life blind man, Larry carries this movie on his shoulders while Kitao Sakurai perfectly maneuvers on the film's various routes, whether it's in terms of situations or tones. He also successfully translates the routine of a blind man who manages to live an active life. We follow Larry, from walking up to walking down the streets, taking the bus and going on visits, a slow pace and rather silent soundtrack representing what he might experience.

When the movie ends, you are left both shocked and puzzled at how such a simple premise was able to emotionally grab you, making Aardvark quite an achievement for such a low-key and small indie production.

  Fred Thom

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