A fake re-enactment about a fake advertising campaign inspired by fake viral videos. This is DRIB, an intriguing mockumentary by Kristoffer Borgli, a Norwegian film-maker, who is known for his mockumentary-style videos that take on Internet culture, celebrity and fame. He is the director behind the Todd Terje mockumentary Whateverest and 2014’s Internet Famous, a brief exploration of the ethics of happy-slapping and viral content. DRIB is his feature-length debut. Then film combines ideas from his shorts into a reconstruction of events in the recent past that centres around a cancelled advertising campaign for an energy drink. In order to avoid legal complications, some elements of the story are rewritten. While at first glance it’s a conventional documentary, DRIB is, in fact, a journey into multiple layers of fake, blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
DRIB is built around, but not entirely focused on, Amir Asgharnejad, an Iranian-born Norwegian who has taken to provoking violent scenes that become popular videos on the web. After one of his viral videos attracts the attention of an advertising company, he was flown to Los Angeles and hired to market DRIB, an energy drink whose name has been changed to avoid being sued. Amir was told they wished to replicate his viral videos where he is beaten up by strangers he antagonised on the street and turn it into an advertising campaign. The plan hasn’t been fully approved, and the agency didn’t know that the assailants in Amir’s videos were paid accomplices, but the idea was to shoot the footage, ‘leak’ the spots to the media as part of a ‘cancelled’ campaign and feast on the free publicity that followed. The film ends with Amir’s advertising campaign being rejected, and Kristoffer Borgli decided to turn it into a film.
DRIB is not about Amir’s story. Much like Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David, Amir is totally immune to embarrassment. For example, he ends a Skype interview with The Huffington Post by exposing his penis. DRIB is less interested in Amir’s story than it is about the culture Amir is caught up in. DRIB is about the truth and how it gets muddled in internet culture. Borgli is fascinated, as is Amir, by the prevalence of viral videos and the potential immediacy of celebrity. Amir, as a performer, constantly refers to the nature of his art, but it is hard not to see a man who yearns to be famous. In one of the last shots of the film, after Amir has been rejected by the agency, there is a genuine look of sadness on his face. Borgli latches onto this and seems to almost use DRIB to punish Amir for having these hopes. In one scene, Amir is posing for promotional photographs and has to be slapped by a bodybuilder. As he most likely had to do in real life, Borgli recreates the scene by having Amir slapped dozens of times by the bodybuilder. With Amir visibly angry and the bodybuilder visibly uncomfortable, Borgli is forcing Amir to confront the reality of his desperate fight for stardom, done so through his violent but viral videos. But constantly confronting Amir with pain, Borgli is asking him if it’s all worth it.
While Amir is very much himself within the re-enactment, the world around him is heavily staged. The American characters are over-the-top stereotypes, and it’s hard to believe these are based on real people. A true highlight of DRIB is the film’s antagonist, the corporate creative director, played by Brett Gelman. Gelman plays the type of character that he seems to have perfected at this point; a man driven by ego and self-doubt, flirting with insanity. His hilarious insistence that he is undermining the system from the inside as part of an experiment in ‘collapse economics’ should ring true to anyone who’s ever listened to someone try and extricate themselves from the dehumanising systems they serve – and the various indignities he forces upon Amir in the name of advertising make for some great self-contained sketches. But he is a character and clearly that; this is not a real person Amir encountered during his four days in Los Angeles. The over-the-top personality of Gelman’s character only furthers the ‘fakeness’ of Amir’s story. In short, DRIB is a fake re-enactment of a fake advertising campaign based on fake viral videos.
The film reaches peak ‘fake’ when Amir and Borgli break the fourth wall during the re-enactment scenes, therefore creating fake re-enactments. In creating a re-enactment it would be a fairly simple accomplishment, but Borgli pushes it to the next level. Several times throughout the film the director pulls out to show the camera crew filming the re-enactment, and when Amir is unhappy the film cuts to the interview between the two, discussing the creative changes made to the original story. To quote Amir:
“I felt like it was my story, and you kept making creative decisions to turn it into your movie. I disagreed with that.”
As an audience, we are reminded that this story has been changed for the film, so how much of it is real? Much like how Amir faked his viral videos, he is now faking his own story. This quote could not just be said of DRIB but of the whole proposed advertising campaign. Borgli creates these multiple layers of deception intelligently. While we watch the re-enactment of Amir being guided through this crazy world of advertising with these over-the-top American executives and directors, his story is blurred for entertainment. DRIB is an intelligent portrayal of the ‘fake’ world of advertising and Internet culture, and the perfect image for the word ‘meta’.