A nurse named Jude (Karen LeBlanc) watches a young man die on an operating table. He has suffered a bullet wound to the chest. There is a look of fear in his eyes as blood from the wound runs between Jude’s fingers and then, nothing. It is as though a personification of promise has slipped away and she could do nothing to stop it. Jude suffers from sickle-cell disease and battles the reality of death every day, internally and otherwise. One night, an aging boxer shows up at the hospital sporting a suspect cut. She asks him how it happened. “Life,” he tells her.
He is the fighter, and his name is Silence (Clark Johnson). Silence and Jude start a relationship the way a song inspires a body to start dancing. He has been a fighter all his life. We see him in scenes being pushed around by toughs who try to goad him into making a few bucks bare-knuckle boxing in the streets, alleys and parks of Toronto. During the day, Silence teaches kids how to fight at the Exodus Fighters Gym. A Star of David marks it as his Zion, his home, where he comes from and where he will inevitably end up.
The boy is Jude’s 12-year-old, a budding magician named Ciel (Daniel J. Gordon). For him, Jude envisions a different Zion, a return to Jamaica, where the water is so blue it confuses the sky. We see bits of the promise in Ciel as he sings, conjures, plays percussion on water glasses filled with that same blue water. A group of young boys beats up on him, and that tragic realization of youth occurs – fighting must become a necessity, or we will lose until our bodies give way. And so Jude gives Ciel permission to fight back.
A board in the Exodus gym office spells it out plainly that “the fighter decides.” Silence is a representation of what is happening inside Jude as she prepares to leave her son without a mother. The film is about how opponents of all sorts prevent us from being who and where we want to be. Silence has a weary look in his eyes and an important piece of wisdom to impart. We need that beating drum inside our soul to point the way home. But we also need to be prepared to put up our dukes to get there.
“Nurse.Fighter.Boy” is the first feature film from writer-director Charles Officer. He has a powerful ability to use music as a unifying force. Characters are moved, prompted, propelled forcefully by the songs they play from records, blaring out of apartment windows, reverberating from garages or delivered soulfully from the stage. Singing, dancing and sex are all portrayed as actions that connect us with magic, but not necessarily in the assumed order of truth. Officer and co-writer Ingrid Veninger’s script is unconventional; the film doesn’t rely on what these characters say, but what is being communicated through their behaviour, their decisions, their successes and failures.
Officer is a sensitive filmmaker. He has great affection for these characters, holding them in tender closeups, lighting them warmly and lingering on their features as each actor fits into the roles dictated by the title. Currently nominated for multiple Genie awards, “Nurse.Fighter.Boy” comes out of Officer’s love for his sister, also a sufferer of sickle-cell disease. At the Q&A following a recent CFI screening, the director found it difficult to talk about. He has said all he needs to with his film. The people you love never go away.
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