Puff Guy: Ex-terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein is one of four men filtered by Yu.

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“There is pleasure in hardships heard about,” a woman says in Greek during the opening scene of Protagonist. Yes, Greek. The second documentary by Jessica Yu (In the Realms of the Unreal) was birthed after she was asked to make a film about fifth-century B.C. playwright Euripides. Instead of inventing some manner of profile, however, the director decided to focus on the idea of drama, selecting four men (including her husband) who’ve experienced obsessions and provocative turning points in their lives to tell their stories. It’s a clever approach, but Yu sucks the air out of everything with her unmistakably precious touch, embellishing the narratives with slow-moving animated chapter titles (with “Character,” “Provocation,” and “Opportunity” written in English and Greek) and puppets, quite serious wooden ones that not only intone a Euripides play (in Greek again) but act out episodes from the interview subjects’ anecdotes. As you can imagine, watching a quivering stick figure react to the assault of another one detracts hugely from each scene’s power. (In this case, it was a now-gentle-seeming journalist’s account of the moment he realized he wanted to kill his father.) The four whose biographies were deemed theater-worthy are Joe Loya, the aforementioned journalist, who spent his youth violently robbing banks; Hans-Joachim Klein, a former West German terrorist; Mark Pierpont, an ex-evangelist who denounced his homosexuality, married, and had a child before finally coming out; and author Mark Salzman, Yu’s husband, a nerdy kid who’d become obsessed with martial arts but soon realized his instructor was more sadist than Zen master. Each of these dramatic arcs make for good stories, and the four do have surprising parallels. Protagonist is interesting viewing so far as it makes it clear that the passing centuries haven’t done much to alter human nature. Puppetry, however, may have run its course.