Trotsky admirer copies his idol

Suzanne Beishon reviews a Canadian film ‘The Trotsky’.

“ONE, TWO, three, four, five, we deserve to unionise!’ sing the red pom-pommed cheerleaders outside the warehouse. This is the first scene in director Jacob Tierney’s ‘The Trotsky’, a Canadian comedy which shows the life of a high school teenager called Leon Bronstein who believes he is the reincarnation of Trotsky.

You could be forgiven for being wary of a film that comes out at a time when Trotsky’s ideas are coming under increasing attack from capitalist academics. However ‘The Trotsky’ is a comedy fusion of Tierney’s views on Trotsky: “I really liked Trotsky as a teenager… I was enamoured by Trotsky” and his wanting “to make a movie about young people who are engaged and involved politically”.

At the start of the film you could conclude that Leon Bronstein is portrayed as a well meaning, idealistic idiot. However as the film goes on, it grows more sympathetic, as do his peers, to him and his ideals.

Leon Bronstein is a private schooled warehouse owner’s son who leads a strike for longer breaks and better conditions for the workers in his dad’s company. He is sent to state school, like Trotsky, so he can really live like his hero. As the reincarnation of Trotsky he set himself a list of tasks to achieve – ‘1. Start the foundation for revolution, 2. Marry an older woman – hopefully named Alexandra,’ and so the list goes on. We see him attempt to fulfil the tasks based on the events and timescale of Trotsky’s life.

The main story focuses on the defunct students union whose main purpose is organising dances. Leon’s first intervention into his new school comes when he proposes a ‘Social Justice’ dance where above the entrance a banner with the slogan ‘Peace, Bread and Land’ hangs.

But this isn’t enough. Leon wants to launch a real students union that represents students’ interests like the teachers’ unions do. With a small group who believe in him he leads a strike of school students with the demand of the right to set up a real union.

However his strike fails to ignite the students who treat the strike like a day off – “recess? This is supposed to be fucking revolution!” exclaims Leon.

“Are they bored or apathetic?”, the principal (who believes that the strike’s failure proves that students are apathetic) challenges Leon. Leon, however, believes that the students have been bored into not caring and grapples with how to awaken them out of this temporary state. In an amusing scene his friends find the way to articulate his ideas to the wider student population; ‘school sucks’, ‘yeah’, ‘but should school suck?’

The film pokes fun at the irony of one of its main concepts; reincarnation – “for a Marxist you make a great Hindu”. Even at its most cheesy you can’t help but laugh. And where else will you find a high school comedy which references Trotsky’s book My Life, Ken Loach’s film Land and Freedom, Orwell’s book Animal Farm, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the film Battleship Potemkin? The film ends with him going into exile to find Lenin. Brilliant.

The film is not yet on release in Britain.