Nathan Makalena reviews Bruce Lee and the Outlaw, which had its world premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest on 8 June.

Director Joost Vandebrug creates a sense of intimacy and compassion with society’s undesirables, not witnessed since Dr. Thompson bunked with the Angels in 1965.

I capped off a day of poor decisions by wandering into the wrong film. Surely a 4hr screening on the plight of the French working class wouldn’t be heaving, I thought. But as the lights came up and the concierge introduced ‘THE WORLD PREMIERE OF BRUCE LEE AND THE OUTLAW’ the curb your enthusiasm tune set in. The crowd were ecstatic; I was concerned. It wasn’t a mistake though, the film I watched was a poignant, beautiful snapshot of a young boy’s most important years and the wild scenario that enveloped him.

We follow Nicu, a young orphan who lives with the homeless of Bucharest in a series of tunnels below street level. The introduction of the group’s leader, Bruce Lee, really captures his eccentricity. Both his arms are bound with chains and his hair is coated in silver paint, which the rest of the gang constantly huff out of bags. Over the course of the film his paternal relationship with Nicu is considered and criticised as the audience wonder, are our morals appropriate to judge a group of people whose experience of life is so wildly different?

Traditionally the observational style of documentary struggles with accusations of legitimacy. No such claims should be levied against this work. Vandebrug worked as a photographer, not a filmmaker, when staying with Nicu and created the film out of the hours of B roll he shot. The ‘scenes’ therefore feel neither like a narrative nor even motivated, instead they are simply home video-esque recordings. In the post-film Q+A, when asked about narrative and the conclusion of the film, Vandebrug looked sad. “I suppose seeing it just then on the screen means that is it. My journey with them is over.”

Bruce Lee and The Outlaw screens again at 12:15 in Showroom Cinema on Tuesday.

4 stars

Image Credit: Sheffield Doc/Fest

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