The Ultimate Pranx Case

This is no laughing matter

  • Datum 20-01-2012
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Hassouna Mansouri checked in from Amsterdam to see the world premier of The Ultimate Pranx Case from Canada.

The special thing with The Ultimate Pranx Case by Canadian filmmaker Sylvain Guy is that it is made of images initially intended for another purpose than cinema. Like several other recent films, such as Grizzly Man by Werner Herzog and The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu by Andrei Uijica, the origins lie in footage that already existed. These films illustrate a reverse process of filmmaking inspired by situations where reality is able to surpass imagination. And most of the time it is a tragic story.

Werner Herzog used footage made by Timothy Treadwell to describe how Treadwell’s fascination for bears gave sense to his life but also to his death. Andrei Uijica edited official footage from the Romanian visual archives to reconstruct the legend of the Romanian dictator, showing his golden age and his tragic end. Treadwill wanted to immortalize his moments of enjoyment in the proximity of the grizzlys, but ended up by filming his own death, being eaten by the object of his fascination. The official Romanian footage was supposed to celebrate the glory of the leader who established it for his own pleasure, but also shows how he fell and had to face his fatal destiny. Both Herzog and Uijica are fascinated by the dramaturgic shift from euphoria and joy of life to bloody, tragic death.

Sylvain Guy also uses images he didn’t shoot. He edited the footage he got from the Franklin Police Department of a very tragic case, one of those jokes initiated for fun that ends up as a very sad drama. When Charli, Rob and Alex started their game they could not imagine that they were filming their own end. This "edited version in real time of an elaborate prank, ?a carefully planned vicious case of bullying which went awfully awry" is a typical tragedy of our times.

Charli invited Dinah Murphy for a gallant dinner which turned out to be a nasty trick. His plan was to expose the young woman to a double humiliation. On the one hand he traps her in a dirty farce — serving dog food and wine with urine, asking her to strip. On the other hand this bullying is filmed by a number of cameras in different corners of the house. The vicious images are broadcast live, streamed online by Alex who sits in the cellar monitoring the cameras and commenting on what he sees. When the young woman discovers the set-up she becomes — under the effects of alcohol, drugs and a deep feeling of humiliation — a monster. At that time Charli understands that things went too far. He is not playing the game anymore and tries to calm his trapped but out of control guest.

It is too late. The sweet gentle woman grabs an iron stick and tries to destroy the cameras. When Charli tries to stop her, she attacks him and hurts his head. Then she goes to the cellar where she finds Alex and his screens. She takes revenge on all who took part in her humiliation, man and material. After that, while driving home, she calls her parents who don’t answer the phone. Her car crashes against a tree and she dies. We don’t see this last event because the film is made of the footage shot by the cameras inside the house by the young men, which at that moment are not working anymore. What we hear is the real record of the phone call that the filmmaker, like all the material of the film, could have gotten from the police department.

This tragic end was not planned by the scenario imagined by the three young men as a funny prank. They set up a number of traps but didn’t think about the reaction of the young woman. The ability to manipulate a technological set of cameras and computers produces a strong feeling of selfconfidence and arrogance. Alex was feeling in full control of the situation. Even when Dinah was panicking he was more and more excited. It braught him a lot of sensation. But at a certain moment the crescendo of humiliating situations has to stop and everybody has to wake up and come out of this "quite virtual world".

In fact the film is about this shift between reality and the virtual world. Passions like violence, humiliation and revolt are not felt the same way when witnessed in reality or through a device. Alex enjoys the scenes of humiliation he wrote like a script because, as longh as he watches them on the screen from his voyeuristic position, he feels protected. But when Dinah suddenly stands close to him, threatening his life, they belong to the same world and he is lost. Dinah erupts from imagination into reality. At that moment the boundary which separates the two worlds ceases to exist and the rules established at the beginning become irrelevant. The power relations are turned upside down. The dominated becomes the dominator in a final gesture of revenge as a mixture of humiliation, anger and suicidal desire. The situation reaches a point of no return when Dinah starts to feel a desire for death: first for the others and then also for herself.

The whole film is inspired by this tragic case that happened on October 15, 2010 and is intended to help prevent its cause: bullying. Doing so, Sylvain Guy introduces another layer to the relation between reality and mediation. The film is conmposed from real material, the characters are not actors and the set is real house. Everything is real, even the cameras and the online streaming. In a traditional situation, the viewer would be told a fictional story presented as a real one. What happens with The Ultimate Pranx Case is that we are told a story as if it is fiction — but it is reality. The film brings up a very deep question about entertainment and reality. The end of the film is a triple-layered moment: the hero dies, the show is over and the spectator comes back to ‘normal’ life. This is the moment when our consciousness crosses different worlds, mixing fiction on one side and reality on the other. With this film reality stands on both sides but the magic of cinema presents it as fiction. At the end this dialectic is secondary to human cruelty — whether it is presented as fiction or reality. When a joyful game leads to the absurd death of a human being, such debates can be postponed. Other questions about the role of cinema, like helping prevent such bad jokes which is the main purpose of this film, can then be raised.

Hassouna Mansouri

The Ultimate Pranx Case (Sylvain Guy, Canada 2012, 80′)