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  • Writer's pictureJack Salvadori

Venice 78: “Life of Crime” review

“What is going on? Life is going on.”

I can’t say that Jon Alpert’s latest documentary is a comedy. It is rather a bleak and brutal piece of filmmaking. Yet, irony, at its core definition, plays a key part in the 36 years making of the film. Dramatic irony, which means that “the full significance of a character's words or actions is clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character”, from the Greek tragedies to Newark, New Jersey.

Here we meet Rob, Freddie & Deliris, conducting a despicable lifestyle of petty crimes, shoplifting, domestic violence seasoned by a good mix of drugs.

Through the decades, Alpert’s inquisitive camera scrutinises them as they get high, steal, intoxicate themselves, get arrested, wasted, start families, and eventually regret their lowlife choices, aiming for redemption, and systematically falling back into the vicious cycle of their addiction. Even their children’s plea for love and care is not enough, ignored over the prospect of another dose. A heartbreaking intimate moment in the many shocking scenes shows Desiris’s young daughter Kiki checking for holes on her mother’s arm, as she vainly promised her she had quit for good. But she can only fool herself, not even her disillusioned child anymore.

Thus, year after year, expectations being disappointed and hopes fading away, it is predictable that each of their efforts is doomed to fail. We, the audience, know that, but they, the protagonists, pretend to ignore this sad reality. Hence, here lies Jon Alpert’s ultimate, darkest irony.

The documentary stops to look for positive outcomes, and rather records the interminable and unstoppable destruction of the three junkies’ existence, sentenced since the very beginning they stepped into this dangerous habit.

The morality of the filmmaker is now put at stake, as Jon Alpert does not intervene. He is occasionally seen interacting with the crooks, but he never intercedes to prevent some wrongdoing. Does his behaviour make him an accomplish, or rather a genuine film documentarist? Perhaps a bit of both, but what truly matters at the end it’s the wonderful documentary he made.


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