Monday, 4 April 2011

The Trotsky

The Trotsky tells the story of a brilliant seventeen-year-old named Leon Bronstein who believes he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky. For some bizarre reason, he also believes that part of this reincarnation involves reliving Trotsky’s life, so he has a list of nine things he needs to do, things like starting a revolution and marrying an older woman named Alexandra. When he fails to unionize the workers at his father (the fascist)’s company, he turns his attention to unionizing the students at his public high school in Montreal (while wooing an older woman named Alexandra).

I’m a rebel at heart, and in my rebellious younger years, I, too, fought for student rights in high school and college, so I have a great deal of sympathy for our protagonist. But I never believed I was the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky (or anyone else) and that is where The Trotsky loses its way. Of course, that is the central plot element, the hook that makes this Canadian comedy drama unique. Unfortunately, while it might have seemed like a good idea at the time (to writer-director Jacob Tierney), it doesn’t work for me (it obviously works for some, because The Trotsky won a 2011 Genie award for best original screenplay).

If this was a silly slapstick comedy, then maybe I could ride along on this crazy reincarnation train as Leon recreates Trotsky’s life, but it’s not. The alternative seems to be admitting the possibility, at least for a couple of hours, that this kind of reincarnation exists, and I can’t do that. So when a beautiful 27-year-old lawyer named Alexandra actually falls in love with Leon, it’s just not remotely believable. Neither is the way his sister and some of his classmates treat him. Or the way virtually everyone in the film treats him. They all act as if he’s just some misguided genius who naively thinks he can change the world instead of someone who is absolutely convinced he is Leon Trotsky and must relive Trotsky’s life, and who is therefore in serious need of medical attention. Like I said - doesn’t work for me.

Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy in The Trotsky, including the fine supporting work by veteran actors Colm Feore, Saul Rubinek, Genevieve Bujold and Michael Murphy. As comedy dramas go, this is better than many I have seen in the past decade or two, and it’s very much a Canadian comedy drama, which is generally a good thing (to me). And its heart is most definitely in the right place. So all you comedy drama fans out there (sorry, I am not one of you) could do a lot worse than picking up this lesser known flick, keeping in mind the language warning. As for me, I give it a solid *** for effort. My mug is up but something inside doesn’t taste quite right.


  1. I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one. The Trotsky reincarnation is indeed the hook and I can't imagine the film without it. I wouldn't have considered realism to be at issue, so maybe this means we disagree as to exactly what kind of genre this is. I thought it was enough of a silly comedy for it to work just fine. I also had a soft spot for this film having recently read Kingsolver's The Lacuna, which focuses to a large extent on the life of Trotsky. More people should know the story of this guy, and this movie helps spread that. I actually had more troubles with the way the climax developed and resolved - I found that worked less for me than the reincarnation.

  2. I also had trouble with the climax.

    As for the reincarnation, I just didn't understand what the film was doing with it - ignoring it sometimes, taking it seriously at other times, treating like a joke at still other times. Alexandra was too serious a character for her to fall for this guy - it just didn't come together for me (I was generally more aggravated than amused by the reincarnation). But I'm actually glad it didn't bother you and that you enjoyed the film. Tomorrow I'll be reviewing a British comedy drama - the Brits are the ones who really know how to make comedy dramas.