Quebec film David Against Goliath examines the importance of failure

3.5 out of 5 stars

Are you the type of person to undertake and fail to finish projects? If yes, how does that make you feel? Do you feel an imposing sense of dread? Failure? If others were involved, do you feel as though you betrayed them? These questions, and more, are central to the documentary David Against Goliath and filmmaker David B. Ricard. Haunted by three unfinished short films, Ricard creates a documentary examining what prevented their completion and the emotional weight of those decisions. While featuring interviews with friends and colleagues, the movie also includes black & white recreations of David and Goliath, inspired by silent cinema. 

Part essay on the nature of creation and part self-portrait, David Against Goliath treats many familiar themes associated with art-making processes. It examines the filmmaker’s motivation to become a filmmaker and the many obstacles that redirected his path. With clips from the three unfinished shorts, their intended purpose reflects and clashes with what they have become: documents in their own right, figments of a past unseen. In some ways, left unassembled and unreleased, they’ve taken on a new life as part of Ricard’s memory and personal development.

Much of the film features candid conversations about the making of the movie and Ricard’s disproportionate guilt over leaving them unfinished. His friends and family are not burdened by guilt in how he is and work to provide reassurance as they talk about the conditions that led them to fall apart. In many ways, the movie is a reflection of time and creation. As much of a cliché as it is, the idea is that the journey is often more important than the result. For Ricard, despite his guilt and myopia, this feature documentary feels far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s real, it’s personal and it’s new.

If it’s not already apparent, Ricard has a streak of self-loathing. His friends and family often handle it with laughter and a smile. Their openness to discussing their friend and his projects with candour and warmth undercut his most neurotic elements. His anxiety also offers a sense of perspective, leading him to include written passages and conversations with people who declined the project and those who similarly decry it as navel-gazing egoism. The meta-textual elements allow Ricard to step back and discuss how he intended a particular scene to unfold. Things inevitably go wrong, but a truth about experience and life often emerges in that failure. It opens up new ways for the viewer to connect emotionally and philosophically to this project. 

At its heart, the film tackles the importance of failure as part of personal development. As the encroaching influence of Artificial Intelligence descends on artistic practice, the film explores the most human element of creation: the processes and detours guided by mistakes, interruptions and changes of heart. Rather than coming out shining, glossy and fully formed, the messiness is the heart of the piece. It’s a warm, nervous reminder of our adaptability and ingenuity. It’s an essential film for creators. 

David Against Goliath might be an unconventional film about the specific hangups of one particularly passionate artist, but it speaks to many universal truths. As funny as it is overtly serious, the movie emerges as a portrait of a man learning to accept that he has limited control over the world around him. It’s a film that speaks to the power of art to transform and communicate, that the process can truly be as important, if not more so, than the result. ■

David Against Goliath (directed by David B. Ricard)

David Against Goliath opens in Montreal theatres on May 5.

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