In part an anti-bullying message, documentary filmmaker Jean-Cosme Delaoye’s Harley is primarily a character study of the eponymous larger-than-life, bowtie and ponytail-wearing defence lawyer, following the attorney as he trains for an MMA fight in Brazil to impress a mysterious woman he met online. And what an intoxicating character study it is.
Hugely eccentric with a multifaceted personality, Harley Breite is the perfect subject to be captured on film. Framing his documentary as more of a voyeuristic experience rather than a series of interviews, Delayoe allows Harley’s own actions and words to speak far louder than any staged conversation could possibly achieve. Of course, there are still very clearly marked interview sections in the film (the filmmaker can even be heard asking questions on multiple occasions). However, by including moments between takes that would normally be edited out, the facade of the feature is torn down, which results in a more fully realised and natural portrayal of the subject.
As peculiarly fascinating as it is to watch Harley learn to dance, obsess over how good a shirt makes him look, or boast about a leather jacket covered in misogynistic patches that he made himself, the greatest success of the project is the filmmaker’s ability to deconstruct Harley’s overzealous bravado and present him as something of a tragic – even slightly pathetic – character. Sequences of him performing charitable actions and discussing the justice he’s acheieved for his clients are overshadowed by those of him spewing sexist arguments against his mother (with whom he lives) and divulging more information about his relationship with an anonymous woman, raising the question of whether he’s the decent person he claims to be or if all of these actions are part of an elaborate disguise to give him the appearance of a successful winner in life.
Although Harley claims multiple times that his pursuit of physical perfection is a result of the bullying he faced when he was younger, the documentary taps deeper into this character, diving further into notions of celebrity, masculinity and the concept of success itself, all exhibited through the actions and words of one very passionate man. Eloquently presented and articulated in this documentary, Harley’s story plays out like a train wreck in slow motion; you just can’t take your eyes off it.
Harley does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Tribeca Film Festival 2020 coverage here.