The idea of making a documentary about four mentally handicapped men who form a punk group might seem to be walking into sensitive territory – and it is – yet with The Punk Syndrome, Jukka Kärkkäinen and J-P Passi have created an honest, often unpredictable, and considered portrait of four men who just want to rock out.
The band’s namesake lyricist Pertti (a loveable character with an obsession for cloth seams) heads up the band, which is called Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day. His fellow band members include ill-tempered diamond-in-the-rough Kari, quiet Toni who plays the drums like a demon, and Sami, who like Toni has Downs Syndrome and a passion for politics. The group tours their native Finland performing in various grimy bars, all the while having a whale of a time in front of bemused crowds, growing in fame as they go.
The four punks display their big egos, tantrum and argue (think backstage at a Stones gig but with cheaper equipment), just like any band with a modicum of success. But then there are the scenes in which the lyrics are composed, which cut to the quick of what this documentary is really about.
The real heart of this film lies in examining the prejudices faced by those who are living with learning disabilities. We hear lyrics shouted out on stage such as, “Pertti has cerebral palsy, Pertti can’t throw a party” – the music, the band, gives the four members a voice and a chance to be heard. In one scene we might see Kari storm off in a rage, frustrated at having to live in an institution, while in the next he channels his anger into his lyrics.
We witness the four interacting, always in and out of each other’s pockets (often to Kari’s annoyance) as they spend nearly all their time together. There’s a truly touching birthday scene that should melt the stoniest of hearts; there’s also heartbreak (which does likewise), and then moments of joy – most notably when the band plays in front of increasingly sizeable crowds. The real trick, however, is the way in which Kärkkäinen and Passi lace each scene with raw humanity and humour.
For these four, music is much more than rhythm and chords. Punk is about what is being said rather than artistic finesse. The Punk Syndrome continues this spirit with its intentionally crude camera work, which worries less about shots and more about actually capturing its subjects. Somehow this rugged look makes the viewing all the more engaging – it’s a film with heart that wears punk pride on its sleeve. Like those it depicts, The Punk Syndrome is bold and couldn’t care less what other people might say or think.
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