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Exit Through the Gift Shop: Examining Our Preconceptions about Art
Exit Through the Gift Shop, iconic street
artist Banksy has crafted an elusive documentary that comes under a cloud of
speculation. Whether or not this is another hoax by the master prankster or an
honest account is beside the point; Banksy isn’t a news reporter nor is this
documentary an investigative piece for 60
Exit Through the Gift Shop ostensibly makes you confront your own perspectives on the value of artistic expression and authenticity, a feat that this thought-provoking film manages effortlessly without relying on hyperbole or grand gestures. Fans of Banksy, graffiti lovers and casual views alike are all in for a treat.
Exit Through the Gift Shop starts with a shadowy Banksy proclaiming to have originally set out to document his own journey until he realised that his documentarian Thierry Guetta is a much more fascinating subject. And it’s true; Guetta is intriguing. A French man who immigrated to American in the late eighties to open his own vintage clothing store in LA, Guetta is a unique individual who seems to be inseparable from his camcorder.
Guetta has an unrelenting obsession with capturing every single moment of his life, and this obsession is a means unto itself. Originally, Guetta had no plans beyond capturing the monotony of his everyday life and then stacking the tapes away in boxes. However, in the late nineties he stumbled across street art subculture; and that captivated him even more than videotaping endless hours of mundane footage. Guetta grew to be a fixture in the street art scene, and when asked why he was constantly taping; his reply would allude to a sweeping street art documentary that he was working on.
As the documentary continues, it shifts focus from Guetta’s own footage to the man himself. There is more to the film than capturing Guetta’s neurosis, though , like Banksy’s work, his film challenges prevailed constructs of the medium and its merits. It lashes out, defying argument and deconstructing itself in the process.
By the end of the film, Banky's former art dealer wonders about the purpose or the sense in all the madness of Banksy: 'The joke's on ... well, I'm not sure who the joke's on,' he says. 'I'm not even sure there is a joke.'
He promptly charms the somewhat cynical principal Ms. Vaillancourt (Proulx), who at first is a little hesitant to his slightly mystical presence, and soon takes over the 'broken' classroom. The film’s heart also lies with the two students who were unfortunate enough to discover the body. Alice (Nélisse) is a bright-eyed, straight A student, who deals with her own troubles of an absent parent on daily basis. The tender-looking Simon (Néron) suffers a level of guilt for his teacher's demise and is a problematic student as a result.
The task at hand is one of many challenges for M. Lazhar. Nevertheless, with his own personal suffering set aside, its details slowly unravel throughout the film; he takes the kids under his caring wing and slowly starts guiding them to the truth.
Fellag's interpretation of M. Lazhar is a delightful surprise. Though slightly old-fashioned in his teaching methods, trying to get to grips on a modernised education system, Lazhar is portrayed as loyal and caring. From beginning to end, we are embraced with his warmth and affection. The same can be said for the outstanding performances by both child actors, Alice and Simon. The level of maturity and the profound strength they bring to their roles is nothing short of mesmerising.