Monday, June 06, 2011

DocPoint in NY: Reindeerspotting

It should be safe to say France’s drug treatment program for heroin addicts has been a failure. Their policy of providing free Subutex has created and supplied an illicit trade of the drug in Northern Europe. Filmmaker Joonas Neuvonen knows only too well. His friends from the Lapland capitol of Rovaniemi are hopelessly hooked, as viewers witness in no uncertain terms throughout his documentary Reindeerspotting: Escape from Santaland (trailer here), which has a special week-long run at MoMA as part of Finnish documentary film festival DocPoint’s ten year anniversary celebration.

Jani Raappana is a junky, or least he was. Raappana is no longer with us, but while Neuvonen was filming Reindeer, his old friend was a deceitful, grasping, drug addled small time thief. That is what junkie life is all about. While viewers might understand this intellectually, it makes it challenging to feel much for Raappana, even when he loses two fingers in a skketchy incident happening off-camera. Not surprisingly, as a film by and about junkies, there are a number of narrative holes in Reindeer where Neuvonen just missed whatever it was that went down.

Clearly invoking the title of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, Reindeer lacks the same dark humor, for the obvious reason that it is brutally real. To his credit, Neuvonen did not exactly protect his own reputation through the editing process, leaving in several apparent references to his cocaine use. However, watching Raappana wallow in all manner of controlled substances during what was supposed to be their Parisian escape from the junkie life is just plain sad.

Perhaps one of the most tragic aspects of Reindeer is the extent to which their habit is supported by European social policy. The Subutex is supplied by the French government to addicts who trade it in turn to dealers for harder stuff. The Finnish users shoot it up with syringes paid for by their Scandinavian welfare state. Meanwhile, the Finnish police doggedly work to curtail the Subutex trade, thereby driving-up the street price.

May God have mercy on Raappana. Unfortunately, he is a rather unseemly POV character to spend time with. Laudably honest, but unremittingly depressing, Reindeer certainly establishes DocPoint’s street cred. Mostly recommended for hipsters who need to be scared straight, Reindeer screens this Wednesday (6/8) through next Monday (6/13) as part of DocPoint’s anniversary celebration.