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‘Scratch’ does more than scratch the surface of the dangers of chasing a dream

‘Scratch’ does more than scratch the surface of the dangers of chasing a dream

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Scratch

Written by Sébastien Godron

Directed by Sébastien Godron

Canada, 2015

Art, regardless of the medium, is all about one’s voice, or that of a collective. There is no art if there is no voice operating as the driving force behind the creativity and the brilliance. In music, the voice of a piece can be heard via instrumentation as well as through lyrics and song. In fact, when it comes the meshing of the worlds of music and film, the story of young, up and coming musicians and singers is a tried, tested and true venue. Someone with connections always comes along and discovers that special voice, be it because it sounds distinctive or it has something of pertinence to say. Hip-hop is no exception to said rags to riches tales in real life or on film. Scratch, the new film from director Sébastien Godron, is one such film inspired from the aforementioned template before going off in a direction few will see coming.

Providing the picture with a distinctly local flavour, Scratch is set in Montreal within the Little Burgundy community that lies in the shadow of the flashier neighbouring downtown district. Angelot (Raphaël Joseph Lafond), or Leslie as his street name goes, is deadest on becoming a hip-hop artist, always prattling on about his style, dropping lyrics to anyone who will listen, and occasionally performing with his band at a small local club. Living with his brother Frantz (Fayolle Jean Jr.) and parents, Angelot has dream of making it big with Nirva (Maryeva Metellus), FX (Dominique Laguë) and Wendy (Shelby Jean-Baptiste). Their opportunity may come in the form of a documentary for which their neighbourhood is the subject, filmed by Mathieu (Samian). After being followed around the streets for a few days, Angelot and the gang put on a show one night, but after their thrilling performance, one revolting act of violence risks putting everybody’s hopes and dreams on ice, most notably Angelot’s.

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Scratch is a bold proposition from writer-director Sébastien Godron. In many ways it both adheres to and goes against the tropes of the classic tale of a poor kid that makes it big, both with respect to the story being told and the actual filmmaking process. The movie opens in faux-documentary style, with the director within the film Mathieu meeting the film’s central characters, talking to them about their lives, their hopes and dreams. Angelot and his friends are undeniably charismatic despite the typical overuse of crude language that is so often associated with hip-hop culture. Life at home is both sweet and difficult for Angelot. He gets along extremely well with his brother Frantz, but relations with his mother and father are somewhat rocky given they their belief in what constitutes a real job has nothing to do with what Angelot is aiming for. They love him dearly (and he loves them in return even though his demonstrations are subtler) and that is exactly why they are worried. The first third of the film works like gangbusters for those expecting a more traditional tale with a modern, Montreal and Haitian community-inspired twist.

That is, however, the lone portion of the film that will feel familiar to viewers accustomed to watching those sorts of movies. Sébastien Godron has other ideas in mind from a stylistic point of view, to say nothing of the fact that the picture’s tone takes a radical turn after the nightclub scene when a rival of Angelot’s challenges him to a fight. As far as the story goes, Scratch never pulls any punches, thrusting viewers into a world with a lot of love and friendship despite economic fragility. What’s more, egos run wild in Angelot’s universe. Angelot himself is not immune to strutting with a healthy dose of bravado, as do his buddies. Their version of hip-hop melds together the streetwise toughness that tends to sell records and the social consciousness that comes from living in a poor neighbourhood. With egos and bravado come rivalries, the one with Chucky Dee being especially heated to point of legitimate death threats and physical confrontations.

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Without giving anything away, Scratch makes an extremely provocative decision by taking something away from its protagonist that sends his plans of making a life as a hip-hp artist into a tailspin, thus forcing Angelot to reconsider everything he thought had to live for. The decisive moment is completely unexpected, as are the consequences of said event, descending the film into darker yet far more emotionally satisfying territory than had it adhered to the more traditional blueprint. In a nutshell , the film refuses to shy away from the real life dangers associated with a volatile living situation. Interestingly enough, director Godron never makes any explicit statement about the nature of the tension that run high within the hip-hop community, tearing it apart limb from limb. He more aptly leaves it up to the viewer to make their own decisions about how people should behave when under duress, pressured from their peers, pressured from societal expectations, and how they should retaliate when under attack.

Stylistically, Scratch also chooses the road less taken. In the opening credits the film is described as a ‘’hip-opéra’’, and as such the picture frequently takes breaks from regular dialogue exchanges to allow the characters to drop very cleverly written verses from original songs written specifically for the film. It therefore works as a traditional piece of fiction and a musical, only that the musical interludes do not exist to drive the plot forward but rather to communicate the emotions and motivations its characters, with almost everyone getting in on the act, including Angelo’s bitter rival, Chucky Dee.

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Time shifts between the present and Angelot’s childhood, mainstream filmmaking and faux-documentary framing, hip-hop song numbers in between dialogue exchanges, the movie juggles a bevy of different techniques and pulls it off with aplomb. The best part is that its cast, made up of mostly unknown actors, shows off great charisma and camaraderie. Raphaël Joseph Lafond, Fayolle Jean as Angelot’s father, and Fayolle Jean Jr. are all very attractive in their ways while playing very different characters. Hopefully Scratch will find an audience in the Québec public and even Canada-wide. It deserves the attention as yet another example of what terrific homegrown talent can accomplish when provided the opportunity.

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-Edgar Chaput