German writer-director Philip Koch's debut feature is a closely observed prison drama loosely based on Alan Clarke's acclaimed BBC Play for Today, SCUM. Picco translates as lackey, and the protagonist is a quiet, diffident teenage boy landed in a prison cell with three other kids. The prison is claustrophobic, dull and full of sinister threat. The pivotal moment comes when the protagonist witnesses a rape, but is persuaded not to stick his head up above the parapet and report it. From then we see a subtle shift from bullied to bully, as he realises that there is no sustainable middle ground.
Koch portrays this with a fairly straightforward narrative style, and some impressive steady-cam work within the cell. The performances and production design all add up to an authentic feel. I guess my problem with the film is that it doesn't feel fresh or dangerous enough. The director warned the audience at the LIFF screening that it was going to be uncomfortable to watch, but actually it really wasn't. Certainly there was nothing to match the razor-blade scene in similarly themed UN PROPHET, and for those of us who'd watched LEAP YEAR earlier in the day, PICCO seemed like pretty bland fare by comparison.
I guess my overall reaction was that this was a coming-of-age prison drama like many others - quiet inmate turns bully to survive. It is well-told and well-acted, but ultimately, what does it add to the genre? Not much.
PICCO played Cannes 2010 and will be released in Germany on 25th November.