Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pack of Wolves

The Wolfpack (2015) - Moselle
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I've heard about many great eccentric, downright crazy family stories that have taken place in New York's Lower East Side (LES) through friends over the years. But none was as batshit crazy as the story of The Wolfpack.

The documentary tells a story of 6 brothers (and one sister) living in a squalid housing project in LES, Manhattan. Oscar Angulo, their stern, Hare Krishna father (named all his children after Hindu gods - Bhagavan, Govinda, Jagadisa, Krsna, Mukunda, Narayana and Vishnu) from Peru with a strong belief that New York is a dangerous, greedy place and not suitable for his children to socialize with the corrupt outside world, forbade them to go out of the apartment. Home schooled by Susan, their over-protective American mother, these bright but bored and restless boys have spent most of their captivity playing out countless movies they saw on VHS and DVD- their only contact with the outside world. They ingenuously made all the props and costumes out of cereal boxes and yoga mattes and videotaped their meticulous, word-by-word reenactments. I mean, isn't this too good of a documentary subject or what?

Serendipitously, Crystal Moselle, a filmmaker, happened to run into the Angulo pack on the street one day - one of the first days after they freed themselves from their father's grip. Smart and curious enough to find them interesting, she proceeded to engage them in a conversation. This is how this amazingly intimate, gotta-see-it-to-believe-it documentary was born. Equipped with wealth of materials (their home video movies of - Reservoir Dogs, Dark Knight, Pulp Fiction, etc.), and very willing and open collaboration from the Angulo boys, Moselle paints the coming-of-age story like no other. 

Watching The Wolfpack can be disorienting at times without any narration or prologue on the origins of the project. But the sheer access into the fascinating private life of the most unusual family makes it a compelling viewing experience nonetheless.

Coming in when the brothers started rebelling against and test their father's authority, Moselle weaves a somewhat chronological story of the boys' unusual upbringing. And she's there to document their many first time experiences - taking the subway train, going to a movie theater, swimming in the ocean, well, Coney Island, etc.

The boys' father, makes an appearance later in the film in Moselle's footage, admitting that what he had done to the kids might not have been the best thing, that his plan to go to Scandinavia where things are done right (he must have been thinking of their now failing welfare system), didn't work out and had his family marooned in New York permanently.

These likable boys and NY setting make the film very difficult to be seen as only an interesting social experiment that happened in nowhere land. It's a testament of human strength and adaptability in the changing environment. Even though they lived in instilled fear and misguided suspicion of the outside world, they found an escape in cinema and acted upon it ingeniously, thus creating their own universe without going insane where most people would have in the same circumstances. 

the wolfpack DK.JPGThere are a lot of poignant moments in The Wolfpack, as they embrace the outside world - they seem genuinely bewildered to see an apple orchard upstate for the first time, the ocean or even the sunlight. 

There is a film within a film moment which beautifully reflects lives of the Angulos. It's one of the many films the boys made but perhaps the most personal - about fear and beauty, directed by Bhagavan, the aspiring filmmaker, starring everyone, including Oscar, Susan and their sister Vishinu. While watching Bhagavan watching the production in front of him, you feel that these boys came out relatively unscathed from what must have been extremely difficult and frustrating childhood. You can sense that there is a bright future ahead of all of them.

The Angulo boys clearly want to tell their story and have faith in Moselle to convey it, giving her the full access into their lives.  The Wolfpack is a very unusual human drama that is both compelling and deeply moving. It's easily one of the most fascinating documentaries I've seen in recent years.

The Wolfpack opens in NY on June 12 at the Landmark Sunshine Cinemas and Film Society of Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and expands nationwide on June 19.

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