JDIFF 2012 Real To Reel Cinema Review: Calvet

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Real to Reel: Calvet

Thursday, 23rd February, 4:00pm, Cineworld

It’s Scarface meets doodling. When you get a fascinating subject for a documentary you must be half way there. Like the jaw-dropping life story of John Healy documented in Paul Duane’s John Healy: Barbaric Genius which was screened at last year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, the subject of this documentary, Jean Marc Calvet, has battled his way through addiction and self destruction, homelessness, run-ins with the law and unsavoury types along with bodyguarding and scamming for good measure, before dramatically finding redemption through painting.

The first 30 minutes contains a heart stopping recollection of a scam carried out by Calvet in Tony Montana’s old stomping ground of Miami and in another nod to the Cuban, the titles are in blood red accompanied with thumping sound track.  This is no ordinary documentary.

Calvet is an intriguing subject; flawed, selfish and egocentric but also searingly honest and talented, indeed a price of $100,000 is placed on a painting of his by a gallery owner in New York. One gets the sense that the documentary is helping him exorcise some of his demons, just some as he looks like he holds plenty in reserve, and spurs him on to try and make good on mistakes he made in the past, in particular trying to contact his son that he abandoned many years ago as he is about to turn 18.

In the Q&A chaired by Dr. Harvey O’Brien, co-producer Brendan Byrne and Editor  Paul Carlin met in person for the first time.  Byrne said he is drawn to stories of redemption and justice but that in this case when he heard the story he thought it was too good to be true.  He also felt that it should have at least reached the Oscar® longlist for Best Documentary but the fact that it is predominantly in French held it back. Carlin said the main difficulty was the pacing and that he didn’t want to treat it as an art documentary.

But is it a true story?  Byrne believes it is 100% true and the thought that it wasn’t didn’t cross his mind until after the movie was screened and someone else brought it up.  My own thoughts are, as often happens, this story is too unbelievable and outlandish to have been made up.

*****SPOILER ALERT – QUESTIONS ANSWERED IN THE Q&A******

The documentary does raise some unanswered questions that were answered at the Q&A.

Byrne, who seems well used to the festival Q&A circuit, revealed that Calvet is indeed taking a risk going public, and the possibility of him being found and killed by his former employer is a plausible but to his mind unlikey threat.

Regarding the crew filming Calvet at intensely private family meetings Byrne believed that the camera spurred him and pushed him into doing things that otherwise he might have backed out on.  After discussions with family members that he had a crew there they consented to being filmed.

Gordon Gaffney

Click here for Film Ireland’s coverage of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

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