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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a gift (though a painful one) to have caught Johnny Mad Dog at a
Melbourne Film Festival screening yesterday. The audience was left
breathless by this confronting and brutal film. From the first frame,
director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire's adaptation of Emmanuel Dongala's
novel held the audience captive with its visceral depiction of the
lives of two children (though it's sometimes hard to remember that's
what they really are) caught up in the careless tornado of civil war.
Reminiscent in style and tone of Fernando Meirelles' Cidade de Deus (City of God), the film follows Johnny Mad Dog, a 15-year-old soldier fighting raging hormones and the overpowering effects of systematic brainwashing, and Laokole, a 13-year-old girl fighting to save her crippled father and little brother.
The story is relatively simple, but the sense of danger and horror is always palpable, making it impossible to look away even when faced with scenes of depraved and unconscionable (though only occasionally graphic) violence. This violence feels justifiable, though, in the context of the closing montage, which shows graphically just how widespread and damaging the problem of child soldier recruitment really is. Sauvaire deliberately makes the geographical setting ambiguous, so it could be a story taking place in any number of countries, as it actually is.
It's obvious that Sauvaire and his cast of non-professional actors, many of whom brought to the film first-hand experience of the horrors of child soldier combat, have a driving urge to tell this story, to expose the truth about the consequences of involving children in violence, and the shocking hypocrisy when they are dumped, uncared for, at war's end.
There is nothing sanitised about Sauvaire's depiction of this hopeless situation; it is not for the faint-hearted. But it is a film for those who are willing to be challenged and provoked by an exceptional piece of cinema and human storytelling.
the other reviewer bellow sums everything up pretty much as i would do
overall. i just have to add that i like this much more then "city of
God" mostly because there is no over-the-top acting here and this is
much more expressive from a realistic point of view. also the 2 or 3
war scenes are also very raw with realistic common sense military
but the strength of this movie comes from its subject matter and from ALL the actors. watching this one realizes that there is no need for drama classes to become an "actor" if you were able to "play" the designed "role" beforehand...hands down to ALL the actors here(both girls and boys). the dramatization and the conclusion also stands out as well as all those little details abundant in many scenes.the dialogues are very raw and used in good realistic measure.
one warning to the viewer: the language spoken is an English African dialect, so you might have a need for a subtitled version. subtitles are already available for it on the net.
Johnny Mad Dog hits you like a punch in the jaw straight from the
opening shot, and doesn't let up the entire way. The film directed by
Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire was for me the stand out film of the Melbourne
International Film Festival in 2008. The raw, splendidly gritty film
making technique displayed to the full house at the forum has left an
image in my head that wont leave me for a long time.
The film depicts a group of soldiers in their early teens and the lives they lead as a gang of freedom fighters in an unnamed African country. Their country has been plagued by war for many years to the point there its all the young boys have ever known. It highlights the loss of innocence amongst the young boys and extreme dramatic realities of the civil situation in the country.
The film for me had some likenesses to Fernando Murielle's and Kátia Lund's 'City of God', as both deal with the corruption of young peoples lives in poverty stricken landscapes. While 'Johnny Mad Dog' doesn't quite hits the incredible heights of 'City of God', its by no means any less of a film. 'Johnny Mad Dog' hits you with more of a documentary feel, lots of hand-held camera, yet shot compositions are still carefully considered and beautifully realized. 'Johnny Mad Dog' does away with a lot of overly stylistic editing, which presents the events of the characters as a very truthful experience.
The performances are incredible. Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, has shaped some amazing moments from a cast of non-actors. In the Q and A afterwards he explained his pre- production techniques and his unyielding intent on casting boys who had had actually been soldiers in their past. For this, the utmost respect is disserved for him.
Sauvaire's vision of this bleak situation doesn't hold back for a moment. It grabs the audience by the neck, and puts in the middle of the disorderly gang. I'm very glad I had the opportunity to experience it.
Harry High Pants.
Covering the same territory as BLOOD DIAMOND this couldn't be further
away from Hollywood's treatment of child soldiers. However, although
sentimental and following the classical Hollywood patterns, BLOOD
DIAMOND does have its merits. I'd also compare this with SAVING PRIVATE
RYAN because there's a similar visceral realism, on a budget which was
probably one percent of Spielberg's film.
This is difficult to watch from the opening scene onwards as the protagonists, boys from their early to late teens, commit the most appalling acts of depravity - such as forcing another child to shoot his father dead, raping a young woman. One of these acts is witnessed by a young girl, who Johnny Mad Dog is to face at the films denouement. The director overcomes his budget limitations with effective use of hand-held camera, close in, jerky, tightly edited, frequently with the look of actual documentary footage. Things are often obscured, you can't quite see whats going on, which further disorientates and unsettles making an effective portrayal of the chaos of war. Another film I'd compare this to is the Russian COME AND SEE, which follows a teenage boy whose village has been massacred by the Germans. It also works in terms of disorienting the viewer, building into a climax, with a character who is not goal directed but functions more as a figure through which we bear witness. Johnny Mad Dog works in the same way - most impact as the credits roll, accompanied by a series of photographs taken during the Liberian civil war of 1990 - 2003. The film has drawn on those images, recreating them on the screen and enabling us to bear witness.
Sound...very little music and impressive use of sound. The opening scenes made all the more effective with the horror of events conveyed through screams. Dialogue is in pidgeon English, subtitled and has a raw authenticity to it, with English words put into African grammatical constructs, mixed with local dialects, or words put together to form new ones.
Performances from the young cast are superb, with an utterly convincing blankness. The violence has a randomness and purposelesness to it. Shouting at their victims, randomly barking out irreverent questions such as 'what is the area of a triangle?' These kids can't be written off as 'evil' because they seem to lack any motivation. Dressed in bizarre clothes such as wedding dresses, sporting headgear, fairy wings, in a strange way they've adapted to a set of circumstances and through the violence have formed their own surrogate family. I think the best sense to make of this is through mental health and the idea of a collective psychopathy which maintains it own awful momentum.
Violence is all the more shocking in the way the director avoids cinematic conventions. There isn't a build up to someone being shot: one moment the boys are 'patrolling' a street, the next moment one drops to the ground, hit by a sniper. The treatment is very matter of fact, shocking for the banality, the casual nature of the violence.
Challenging, chilling, disturbing, harrowing and difficult to watch. Time will tell but I think this may well, eventually, be seen as one of the 'great' war films. I can't think of another which deals in the same way so effectively with child soldiers
There are no heroes here, no resolution, ultimately it points up the complete futility and waste of all wars.
As some of the previous reviews have reflected, this movie is confusing in the fact that the PLOT and COUNTRY and Purpose are not easily recognized. Some may call this pointless and the other spectrum may call this raw; but the truth is that this movie is all of the above. It does not outline it's plot as ludicrously as 'Step Brothers' or as reflective (aka thought provoking as City of God) it is what a a true journalistic amateur (aka 'raw') would have documented if he was watching some children in a street gang in an unamed African country. This movie was shot in Liberia, but as a historian and patriarch of Nigeria; I have heard similar type stories. Not ALL movies are made to make you feel good. Some (thank the Lord) are just that..........movies. THINK for yourself.
In an unknown African country, Johnny Mad Dog (Christophe Minie),
possibly 14-15 years old, leads a group of young child militia. After
the successful infiltration of a TV station, who they believe support
the President, they march on to try and capture the capital city. They
rape, murder and destroy their way through the city, with scant regard
for the cause they're fighting for or the cities inhabitants.
Meanwhile, Laokole (Daisy Victoria Vandy), a young girl around Johnny's
age, tries to survive with her younger brother and her wounded, legless
Shot with a documentary-like realism, director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire employed an unknown cast, many of which are actual former child soldiers. We are shown in detail how they are taken from their families and have hatred drilled into them by their colonel, who spouts his motto "you don't want to die, don't be born." It's a savage story set in a savage landscape, and, in the central storyline, we are not allowed the comfort of having any sympathetic characters. There are moments of black comedy - at the beginning we see one of the soldiers loot a victims house and put on a wedding dress, which he wears for the majority of the film, and No Good Advice (Dagbeth Tweh) steals a pig from a victim and stubbornly struggles to carry it on his shoulders. They are clever devices that make the film all the more terrifying and almost unbelievable.
The cast are superb to the point where I often forgot I was watching a film, and instead was watching a beautifully filmed documentary. As Johnny, Minie is dead-eyed and stoic, with only fleeting glimpses of a heart beating beneath his cold exterior. He is simply doing what he has been brought up believing, that what he and his crew are doing is revolutionary. They have scant regard for their own lives, being convinced from a young age that bullets won't hurt them, and their bodies jacked-up with alcohol and cocaine. As the credits roll, the sound of Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit seems a strange and ill-fitting choice, but it does not stop Johnny Mad Dog from being a powerful expose of a world that is almost alien to the West.
Along with Full Metal Jacket (1987), Apocalypse Now (1979), Paths of
Glory (1957) and others, this film joins that august group of anti-war
films which attempts to provide a realistic glimpse into the chaos of
Using documentary-style filming and editing techniques, the story centers upon a small group of boy soldiers who we first see brutally murder and rape some villagers; then they attack a TV station, killing and raping as they go; and finally they launch a major assault, with their larger army, upon a medium sized town where they once again go on a killing spree.
Finally, with their objectives achieved, General Never Die (Joseph Duo) disbands the army, tells the boy soldiers that it's all over, so now "Go and do something else." While there is a large cast of first time actors playing the roles of the boy murderers, the story focuses upon Johnny Mad Dog (Christopher Minie) as the boss of the small group, and Laokole (Daisy Victoria Vandy) a young girl who is trying to save her wounded father and her brother, Fofo (Onismus Kamoh).
During the hectic fighting scenes in the final assault, Johnny and Laokole (grimly holding onto her small brother) accidentally meet on a staircase in a deserted building. He stops, gun ready, but instead of interrogating her and perhaps killing her, they gaze at each other until one of his grunts calls Johnny back onto the street. Grudgingly, reluctantly, he goes back to his killing machines
Later, towards the end, the two meet again under different circumstances and we see the full irony of the effects of war upon individuals: but we are left in a state of uncertainty about the outcome of that meeting, much like we might feel after reading a news story about the real wars in Africa with real boy soldiers that still continue even as I write and you read.
There are short moments of gallows humor with a live pig; for the most part, however, there is just unrelenting killing, raping, and slaughtering of innocents and, implicitly, the death of hope. So, it's not a film for those who cannot watch the worst of human depravity during war.
Technically, the production cannot be faulted. The direction is superb, garnering performances from newcomers that must be seen to fully appreciate. The camera work fits the situation of quasi-documentary. The sounds of war are realistic and actually remind me of sounds I've heard recently in the current slaughter of civilians in Syria.
Highly recommended, but not for kids, obviously.
March 11, 2012.
I've been drawn to Johnny Mad Dog by the fact that Mathieu Kassovitz
was one of the producers. Despite his escapades with Hollywood he was
able to amass a fine body of work, so i was curious what he got
involved with this time.
I saw this movie as a powerful docudrama that shows the realities of a prolonged civil war in Subsaharan Africa. It follows the protagonists in a cold, almost detached, matter-of-fact way. When you give weapons to kids life becomes a simple but deadly game. The movie offers no answers, since it seems there are no answers. In this sense it is similar to Kassovitz's movie Hate (1995).
But the strongest message is that this topic has been known for decades. As if the civil wars in Africa were a part of local folklore and there is nothing to be done about it.
Having heard so much about this film...i have to say that the outcome was quite disappointing, considering that the actors were child soldiers themselves. How I wished they could have done more to give viewers more intrinsic detail on a subject rarely explored by films. There is nothing wrong with the acting, as the 'actors' were basically playing themselves with ease. The problem in the movie is that visibility is restricted - we see the same scenario over and over again, only difference is they were in difference locations. Further investigation in other aspects of child soldiering could have easily been filmed (given the child soldiers' participation in this movie) but nothing was being done.
I didn't really know what "Johnny Mad Dog" was going to be about, but
I'm really into obscure foreign films as they usually become little
gems. Still, with not much about this on IMDb and little being known
about this film I was going to give it a miss on Film4. However, when I
heard my favourite critic, Chris Tookey saying that he loved it I had
to give it a chance because often anything he loves, I love. However,
this is one of the few films we will have to remain indifferent on.
"Johnny Mad Dog" follows a group of child soldiers in Liberia 'fighting for freedom' by murdering and raping innocent families and even children. I found it all quite upsetting actually and it really is not a fun watch. Don't get me wrong I like a gut-wrenching, hard hitting film as much as the next person, maybe even more so, but I prefer it when a bit of plot is thrown in. For me "Johnny Mad Dog" was simply horrible people doing horrible things. There is a nice sub-plot with the little girl regarding her father and brother which follows her journey which is interesting. She's the only character you could feel sympathy for, but her story was pushed to the side for the child soldiers.
There isn't anyone to like and after a while it becomes repetitious and dull. I suppose this is its point, that horrible things and unacceptable things are happening in third-world countries now and something needs to be done. It reminded me of "Full Metal Jacket" in a way (which I also only gave two stars) in that it shows the horrors of war through realism. There are a few scenes that are actually quite gripping and well written, but most of them are just repetitive and boring.
"Johnny Mad Dog" was quite beautifully shot, especially when it juxtaposed the raw hand-held close-ups in the war scenes with still ones, like with the boy in the wedding dress at the beginning. It's also quite interesting when these heartless child soldiers show some compassion and I really did like the ending. I did feel moved after watching it, but I can't help but think with a clear narrative that this could've been something of a masterpiece.
My opinion was that I was bored through a lot of it. It's not nice to watch and I would not watch it again, but it is something that I won't forget. Still, films can be extremely hard-hitting yet grip you at the same time with a strong narrative e.g. "Schindler's List" is a film I am anticipating to see again and it showed images probably more-so horrific than this. "Johnny Mad Dog" is a thought-provoking piece and it was effective in the way that they used first-time actors, but it wasn't for me.
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