Canadian filmmaker Randall Lloyd Okita (featured at CAAMFest 34) is known and admired for his oblique yet powerful narratives, even in his more abstract, short works such as Machine with Wishbone (2008) and Portrait as a Random Act of Violence (2012). His stories emerge slowly and completely from the depths of sophisticated and startling imagery, with some patience and time. I was interested to know how this distinctive filmmaker would handle a film with a more linear narrative.
The Lockpicker, Okita’s first feature-length narrative film, concerns a high schooler named Hashi and the violence and traumas in his school, his community, and his home. Great and small acts of violence threaten him and his peers, and much of the tension in the film comes from the suspense of not knowing right away whether these acts are in the past or the present, in the imagination or in reality, and whether the violence will come right now or 5 minutes from now. Okita worked collaboratively with real Toronto high schoolers (both in front and behind the camera) which further enhances the raw, real edges of the tale and highlights the ugliness of adult acts performed by adolescent bodies. While the landscape of violence is highly stylized, with unnervingly saturated colors, ever-present shadows, and a soundtrack to grit your teeth, violence itself is presented in all its ferocity and ugliness. Hashi, his thieving and lock-picking aside, is a relatively good guy, sensitive and aware, and we wonder whether all this violence will break him or encourage him to break free from this life.
Okita does not sacrifice visual polish for narrative urgency, and so The Lockpicker is satisfying on both counts, while still leaving us with many questions and unresolved feelings. His serious treatment of adolescence, violence, and the landscape that abets and hides is supported by a visual directness which forces us to completely engage and pay attention.