Luxembourg’s foreign-language Oscar submission is this striking documentary/narrative hybrid from veteran producer-helmer Pol Cruchten. “Never Die Young” uses voiceover narration, arresting widescreen compositions and masked actors to chronicle the unrelentingly grim life story of a junkie (presumably the late “Giudo” to whom the pic is dedicated). This rather abstract exercise in cinematic biography is as compelling aesthetically as it is somewhat remote emotionally, and will prove best suited to artscasters, cinematheques and boutique home-format distribs.
Our unnamed protag (voiced by French thesp Robinson Stevenin) recalls having loathed authority from an early age in his quaint small town. A superior but rebellious student, he dropped out of school shortly after he began snorting heroin when he was 15. Soon he was stealing from relatives and dealing drugs to support his addictions, which a brief army stint failed to quell. When his criminal antics finally threatened to land him serious prison time, an ill-judged attempt to flee left him almost completely paralyzed.
Decades passed as he gradually regained some physical abilities, even acquiring a gun he could barely operate — though that didn’t stop him from trying, fatefully. Despite narrating from a standpoint of several years’ sobriety, he still rhapsodizes over drugs as having provided his only real happiness even as they simultaneously robbed him of the same. A late passage finds his narrating voice replaced by Laurence Cote, who plays the woman he calls “the love of my life” as a feminine seductress offering both incomparable joy and inevitable ruin.
This literary leap is more successful than two sequences in which choreographer Sylvia Carmarda dances along a street. While the actors posed in papier-mache masks amid formally handsome shots of real-life locations throughout have a spectral, evocative power, these danced interludes — while fine in themselves — feel too divorced from the spoken narrative’s reality to make a useful contribution.
Most satisfying taken as a poetical experiment with the biographical documentary form, “Never Die Young” is handsomely packaged in all departments. There’s no original score, but a half-dozen oldies are put to assertive use, notably two classic Bob Dylan tracks.