Review: Disco Boy (2023)

I was in Italy recently and wanted to see Disco Boy on its opening weekend. I’d missed the Silver Bear winner for cinematography when it was screened at the Berlinale and given that it starred Franz Rogowski, I was left with longing. There was just one small problem: the movie is multilingual, with scenes in French, English, Igbo and Polish (or was that something else?), of which I am fluent only in one, while having some basic understanding of another (guess which); and the subtitles were in Italian, which is a language I am familiar with, but definitely not comfortable to do much more than describe what gelato I want.

As it was the opening day, nobody at the cinema could tell me which of the spoken languages was dominant. But I was in Bologna, the Cineteca called for me and I wanted to be brave – so I went to watch Disco Boy at the Sala Cervi. To add some origin story sprinkle on top, Tributary Stu is derived from Disco Stu, a nickname I got during my university days after not getting a haircut for a whole term.

Now, you have a disclaimer before engaging with this review. The good news is the movie was mostly French and English and it didn’t rely much on dialogue; the bad news is the more important dialogue scenes were in Igbo and Polish. All in all, I’d say I got 90% of what was said and subtitled and felt like I could really engage with Abbruzzese’s debut (!) movie.

The story follows Aleksei (Rogowski), who looks to infiltrate the European Union from Belarus, but he gets caught in France and ends up joining the Foreign Legion to earn his right of citizenship. We also meet Jomo (Morr Ndiaye), a freedom fighter in the Niger delta, who wants to lead a group of rebels to fight for their freedom. Two seemingly disparate people, worlds apart, risking their lives beneath the mantle of modern colonialism.

There isn’t much going in terms of characterization. Aleksei and Jomo are the everyman, thrust into their fates by the randomness of chance, prisoners of the places they were born in. If you had been born white, what would you be? A dancer in a night club, answers Jomo. Disco boy. The movie has quite a bit of visual flair and thrives on tension, which is imbued effectively by the phenomenal score signed by Vitalic. It will surprise you and turn existential in its latter part, as Aleksei questions the meaning of his choices.

Abbruzzese’s movie might not always run at the same intensity, leaving room for some scenes that are dry, particularly given how general its characters strive to be. However, Disco Boy is a trip, it plays with your senses and takes you along for a ride that starts out as an age old tale of violence and independence, only to morph into the ambiguity of what conveys meaning to our existence. 7

L.E. First single from the music album dropped on YT.