Guardians of the Formula Review
Guardians of the Formula / Cuvari formule (2023) Film Review from the 76th Annual Locarno Film Festival, a movie directed by Dragan Bjelogrlic, written by Goran Milasinovic, Vuk Rsumovic and Dragan Bjelogrlic and starring Alexis Manenti, Radivoje Bukvic, Lionel Abelanski, Jérémie Laheurte, Predrag ‘Miki’ Manojlovic, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, Jurji Drevensek, Arnaud Humbert and Anne Serra.
Filmmaker Dragan Bjelogrlic’s startling, intense and powerful new drama, Guardians of the Formula, could make for a companion piece to this year’s mega-hit, Oppenheimer. Alexis Manenti is the movie’s central star and the actor delivers a terrifically complex performance that helps drive Guardians of the Formula. Manenti portrays Dr. Georges Mathé, a knowledgeable man of character who is challenged immensely when three Yugoslav physicists and their distinguished professor, Dragoslav Popovic (Radivoje Bukvic) are exposed to lethal radiation while working on a top secret project involving nuclear weapons. This movie will captivate the audience from the first moments and is certainly mesmerizing in its excesses.
Set in the late 1950’s during the Cold War, Mathé worked with mice and, through trial and error, helped create bone marrow transplants which would ultimately serve to save many lives. In its early stages, this film takes audiences back in time a bit with an examination of Popovic’s dilemmas regarding the events which transpired before the opening scenes of the picture take place. The audience gets a glimpse of Popovic’s mounting pressures and a very intensive look at his research team. Though the characters of Mathé and Popovic may seem different from one another in terms of their viewpoints, a bond is formed between them as the movie proceeds.
This movie is not for the timid with some very disturbing scenes of medical procedures involving needles, etc. The bone marrow experiments help pave way for the inclusion of two great every day characters which the movie presents: A housewife named Odet (well played by Anne Serra) and a mechanic named Rejmon (the great Jean-Louis Coulloc’h). These two characters add much depth to the movie and give the film a terrific human aspect to the material that is further enhanced by Manenti’s extraordinary work throughout. Manenti’s character is going to be a parent and must sacrifice a lot to accomplish what he does. He makes sacrifices and becomes a better man in many ways for doing so. This performance by Manenti is, in a word, moving.
Popovic is another strongly rendered character. The performance by Bukvic is another highlight of the devastatingly complex movie that is Guardians of the Formula. Popovic is a character who goes through much difficulty throughout the picture’s plot and Bukvic captures the intensity of this professor to perfection.
Whereas Oppenheimer showed the audience the results of the atomic bomb from a mental perspective as well as from a physical one (mostly implied and off-screen), Guardians of the Formula doesn’t spare the audience scenes of frightening realism in terms of the fierce and harrowing situations it presents which occurred to those affected by the radiation. There is vomiting and physical human suffering on display here which is unflinching to watch. Oppenheimer was realistic in its own right but Guardians of the Formula is relentless in presenting the emotional difficulties endured by Mathé and the physical challenges Popovic faced. Both movies are close to perfect in terms of their stellar quality, though, Oppenheimer might have the slight edge given its epic running time which allows it to cover a bit more ground. Keep in mind, though, these films are completely different in scope and only merge together when compared to each other under a magnifying glass.
The fusion of the medical and scientific processes are captured rather efficiently in Guardians of the Formula. The major plot points show parallels that come from the development of the bone marrow treatment through mice. These experiments and the discoveries they help lead to are juxtaposed to the consequences of trying to create an atomic bomb and the devastating aftereffects of being exposed to lethal radiation. Without giving more away, the situations in the film tend to complement each other in amazingly interesting ways that will keep audiences fascinated by the material the movie covers.
Guardians of the Formula is an assured, well-made movie which packs a huge wallop. The characters are well-written and some of their suffering becomes a testament to the power of persistence in terms of the quest for a way to deal with something that is overwhelming in formidable ways. As the characters in the movie try to triumph against the odds, we learn a little about the human condition in the process. In this case, there were notable achievements that wouldn’t have happened if certain events didn’t act as catalysts to the research which was intensively conducted. While harrowing at times, Guardians of the Formula is also hopeful.
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