It’s (possibly) all up there on the screen.
It seems that most people who get involved in films, or any artistic pursuit for that matter, feel a sense of alienation at a formative age. This can manifest itself in many ways but for filmmakers it seems, more often than not, that they become immersed in the idea of creating their own world. David Lynch or Tim Burton for example both used their outsider mentality to make films that are troubling, funny, and surreal, while Martin Scorsese built his early films around fictionalized versions of people he saw in his everyday life growing up in Little Italy.
Documentary The Wolfpack centers on the Angulo family (brothers Mukunda, Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Krisna [Glenn], and Jagadesh [Eddie], sister Visnu, mother Susanne, and father Oscar). The brothers have spent a lot of their time over the years re-enacting their favorite films line by line. Although this probably isn’t that strange for aspiring filmmakers, what sets the family apart is that they barely left their New York apartment for fourteen years.
As the movie unfolds it becomes clear that patriarch Oscar probably has a few mental issues. He wanted the children to be homeschooled to keep them from the world at large, and he eventually just settled on keeping them in their apartment all the time. Oscar had the only key and the family only ventured out if absolutely necessary, normally a couple of times a year. One of the children even recounts a year where the kids didn’t leave the apartment at all.
Yet one thing that Oscar didn’t mind was the children’s interest in films. They say at one point that they have close to 5000 movies, counting DVD’s and VHS, and based on their favorites list, a pretty wide range of influence. The re-enactments that they show throughout the film (of Reservoir Dogs and The Dark Knight among others) are actually very well done, and their use of material for costuming is rather ingenious. I wish that director Crystal Moselle (in her film debut) had shown more of these, but what is there is definitely imaginative and impressive.
Eventually the children get tired of being cooped up all the time. The film doesn’t do a great job of explaining how long of a period it covers, though as best I can tell it follows the family over the course of a couple years. By the time of filming, the family appears to have been leaving the apartment regularly for a while, and we are told that the initial exodus (by Mukunda) happened in 2010.
The muddy timeline, and general lackadaisical nature of the film grew tiresome after a while. What starts as a very strange and vibrant story, eventually turns into just another family melodrama. This seems to be more the fault of the filmmakers than the fault of the subjects. It seems like Moselle, in an effort to add a story arc onto the film, went back and drudged up things from the families past to make it appear more timely than the events actually are. This would explain the unclear timelines and the overuse of what seems to be reenacted footage. There is a very interesting and neat story but it gets bogged down by too much theorizing and conjecture.
The Wolfpack ends with Mukunda working as a production assistant, living on his own, and making films of his own. The closing credits are presented over a film that he made featuring his own family. It’s very Lynchian and shows his family’s amazing costuming ingenuity. This gives me a good feeling that we might actually get a chance to watch some films made by Mukunda in the future, and that maybe he and his family will be able to assimilate into the world at large.
The Wolfpack isn’t a great film, but the family that it features is incredibly interesting. With a little bit of tweaking, the film could have placed right up there with some of the better docs of the decade. What the film lacks in coherence it makes up for in the personality of the its subjects, and for a first film Moselle does better than most. Here’s to hoping that we haven’t seen the last of the Angulo family or Crystal Moselle.
Until next time…