I’ll admit, I was quite hesitant to start this film. It’s not long, at an hour and a half, so there was no worry about sitting through the running time, but there was worry about sitting through it at all. Normally I’d save plot descriptions for the second paragraph, but here, this film warrants a disclaimer: This is a film about two men who participate in an illegal cockfighting league. Now, normally, a film with such a volatile and controversial topic will have much more going for it other than just its controversial aspects, such as an interesting and well told plot, or technicals out the wazoo. Claire Denis’ No Fear, No Die has none. It’s not really about the cockfighting, but it’s not really about the plot either. It’s just… not really anything.
The film, specifically, follows two black men named Dah and Jocelyn, partners in their trade of raising and training roosters for the cockfighting ring. Things progress smoothly with their new partnership with a nightclub owner as their exhibitor, even though Dah, the business end of the partnership, feels they are being stiffed, but Jocelyn is in it for the spirit, for the training; much is made of what a natural cockfighter he is. Then in comes the exhibitor’s girlfriend, Toni, and son, Michel, and fairly soon Jocelyn starts to begin having some problems, problems that culminate one night during an exhibition. I explain the actual story there at the end rather loosely for good reason; the film doesn’t seem to be very focused on telling the story it wants to tell. The actual story, that of the brewing conflict between Jocelyn and Michel, who are both attracted to Toni, is pretty much only told through snippets of information passed on to us, the audience, and even then we never actually get a complete picture. Then the ending comes along, which thanks to the film’s complete aloof attitude toward its own plot, comes out of nowhere, and you get the feeling that this film isn’t really concerned with telling a proper tale. Now, that’s all fine and dandy, if the film were more experimental or artsy in nature; at least then, I’d understand why it wasn’t so concerned with its story, but this isn’t. It’s a regular film, or one that is masquerading as a regular film; it just goes about itself like it doesn’t even care, and for me, in response, why should I care then about what I’m watching?
There is a disclaimer right at the very beginning of the credits that says that no animals were hurt or mistreated in the making of this film, which if it is indeed true means this was a hell of an accomplishment, as the violence between the animals was pretty damn realistic, at least as far as my knowledge of cockfighting goes, which is nil. In hindsight, I could see how they managed to pull it off, but a small part of me, the guerrilla filmmaker part of me, still thinks they went the easiest route to accomplish what they needed for the film by just having it be done for real, but for the sake of morality, I’ll need to put my trust in the filmmakers that everything in the film was staged. Even still, this will be a hard watch for any animals lovers reading this, and not just because of the realistic cockfighting; because the film has no focus on anything in the film, so the cockfighting is the only thing that stands out enough for us to take notice. Everything else to be found here is handled so blasé, under the guise of being smartly minimalist, that any but the most ardent of watchers will get through the film and question why they just wasted their time on it, when the film just doesn’t seem to care enough to tell us anything. Reading the Book’s snippet on the film, it really seems like they are trying to cobble together reasonings and excuses as to why this is a must-see, but to me, that’s exactly what it was. Funny, that the Book’s review would be so transparent, given that the film itself cares so little as well.
Arbitrary Rating: 5/10