Zach Levy's Strongman often seems like a documentary version of The Wrestler, only instead of following Mickey Rourke as an aging pro wrestler, the subject is aging strongman Stanley "Stanless Steel" Pleskun. His better gigs include lifting three people with one finger for a British TV show and bending a horseshoe for a suburban New Jersey children's party. Less glamorous stunts involve lifting trucks in parking lots. (Levy says Pleskun spent a year working in Jackson Square.)
Pleskun is a big-hearted, gentle giant who's trying to get everything in place for one last push for stardom. He sees the bright lights of Cirque du Soleil, which he also dismisses as tricks and illusions, but is blind to his own humble surroundings. His training regimen is a hodge-podge of mantras about positive thinking, eating garlic and natural foods, and hauling and bending discarded machinery and scrap metal. He coaches his girlfriend Barbara on how to introduce him and hype a crowd, but that works about as well as their relationship. She delivers completely wooden readings of his introduction notes, and she's getting tired of him treating their lives like his show, the luster of which has all but worn off. Like a mystic, however, he believes his rare strength is part of a spiritual or trascendent calling.
Regardless of his numerous feats of strength, Pleskun doesn't have a great grasp on every aspect of his life. The camera captures raw moments between him, Barbara and her best friend, who strongly disapproves of him. At nearly two hours, the film includes a couple of extended scenes in which their emotions boil just under the surface, and glances directly at the camera show the intimate access they allowed the filmmaker. At times, Pleskun gets drunk and angry, and one fears for everyone in his presence — moments that help reveal how much of his identity and masculinity are invested in his physical strength. But even in the documentary's slow-paced, cinema verite style, he travels a hero's journey and overcomes some of his weaknesses. Presented by the New Orleans Film Society. Tickets $8 general admission, $6 NOFS and CAC members. — Will Coviello
7:30 p.m. Thursday
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3800; www.neworleansfilmsociety.org