Disco Boy (or Why I Joined the Foreign Legion)


Please don't expect the Village People or Donna Summer to show up midway through Disco Boy, Giacomo Abbruzzese's arresting debut feature. In fact, leave all expectations at the popcorn stand.

Disco Boy opens with a shot of bare-chested revolutionaries asleep, limbs interknit, on the floor of an open-walled tin shelter within a Nigerian forest. Their bemuscled leader, Jomo (Morr Ndiaye), awakens as his sister Udoka (Laëtitia Ky) sings barely above a hum nearby.

Each sibling is captured standing still in a sort of an uneasy quietude as the camera explores their faces, their staring eyes, each with orbs unmatched in color. Think Bowie.

Jump cut to a bus coming from Belarus loaded with a batch of boisterous all-white soccer fans. Their destination a playoff in Poland.

"Welcome to the European Union," a border guard announces after mounting the bus and checking everyone's papers. "Your visa is only valid for three days and only for Poland."

Two of the riders, though, have a different final location in mind.

Baseball-capped Mikhail (Michal Balicki), or more familiarly "Mish," and his tattooed buddy Aleksei (Franz Rogowski of Passages (2023)), share a smoke, then at a rest stop, sneak away from their compatriots to begin their hazardous trek to a distant Paris. Through forests, down hills, while brushing away bugs, they ready themselves for a river crossing. Nearing the waters, they take turns shouting aloud what their dreams of relocation are made of: "Crème caramel!" "Bordeaux!" "Pain au Chocolat!" "Camembert!"


What occurs next might best be described by a line from the writer Khadija Rupa: "Maybe life is all about trying to get up while you fall a little bit deeper in the pits of hell, each time you try not to..."

Jump cut to Aleksei, now bro-less and stolidly passive, reaching a "Gay-less Paree." Gilded statues ignore him as do subway riders and passersby. His stay won’t be for long.

Jump cut to Alexsei standing before an official at a desk questioning him in a not unfriendly manner.

"No papers?"

No answer.

"Are you illegal?"

No answer.

"Did you enter illegally?"

No answer.

"No problem. How did you get here?"

"Eight days to get to France," Aleksei utters.

"Sit down. Where did you learn French?"


Apparently, Aleksei's answers work their magic, and he's accepted into a bootcamp for the French Foreign Legion. In a blink, Alexi's with a collection of young men, who're ordered by a rough-hewn captain to strip themselves of their street clothes, undies, and their daily identities. "The Legion is your new birth. The Legion is your only family."

If he survives the pull-ups and the crawlings under barbed wire, and if he then serves for five years, Aleksei'll be able to become a legitimate citizen of the French Republic with the ability to adopt a French name. Who wouldn't want to be called "Francois" or "Antoine"?

The questions you should be asking yourself right around now are: "What happened to the slumbering revolutionaries? And will there be a smash-up between our societal pawns: Jomo, who's fighting against the exploitation of his country’s resources by the powers-that-be, and poor Aleksei, now stationed in Nigeria. The lad started out just wanting some Parisian wine and cheese if you recall.

So, of course, there will be a smash-up, and quite a memorable one that's pursued by an equally memorable aftermath that's almost otherworldly, one that also includes a bit of dancing.

But what clearly makes Disco Boy especially affecting is the stunning cinematography of Hélène Louvart, who won the Silver Berlin Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival. She's apparently shot over 100 features and shorts, working with the likes of Wim Wenders, Claire Denis, and Eliza Hittman (Beach Rats).  Her mastery of extreme closeups (filling the screen at times with just eyes or lips) and her usage of infrared in a pivotal scene is breathtaking.

Clearly, writer/director/co-editor Abbruzzese is striving to expose the guarded interiority of his characters, and with Louvart's aid and some trippy editing, he achieves that goal. Then there's the soundtrack throughout . . . the beats that eventually guide us to the titular disco . . . which are supplied by French electronic music producer Vitalic.

By the way, for those of you who were around in 1999, you might recognize that Disco Boy is a transparent paean to Claire Denis's cult fave, Beau Travail. The New York Times called the latter "Billy Budd in Boot Camp for Legionnaires." The finales of both are cut from the same cloth: emotionally agonized souls letting loose with their pain/joy on the dance floor.

And, yes, Disco Boy does have a smattering of queer content popping up unexpectedly. Some might overlook these momentary appearances of ghostly passion, risings that will make you question your takes on the film's earlier scenes, so be awake and aware before you couple with our Disco Boy.

(Fave scene: the clicking of wine glasses. If you are a mournful romantic, you will never forget this moment.)

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