Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Wolfpack, The Face of an Angel

The Wolfpack
The Face of an Angel

Shall I be the first one to say it? Okay, I will, but when I do, remember this: I love documentary film.

Here goes: there are too many of them.

Ugh. I know, I know, you can never have enough of a good thing, and everybody has a story to tell. Except, maybe we need some quality control? Maybe filmmakers need to ask themselves "Is this a great, once-in-a-lifetime story? Is it so new, so important, so compelling that I must tell it or promptly expire? And can I tell it in a cinematically engaging way?"

I ask after sitting through Crystal Moselle's "The Wolfpack," which I had hoped to enjoy even though it won the documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Sundance, in case you hadn't guessed, has become something of a four-letter word to me: in feature film, a repository of unmitigated quirkiness and falsity; in documentary, incestuous and self-congratulatory. "The Wolfpack," about six brothers who live with their domineering father and beaten-down mother in an apartment on the Lower East Side that they sometimes don't leave for nine months or a year at a time, is the latest example. 

Moselle brings the sum total of zippo to the table as a documentarian, her film a collection of redundant footage of the boys wandering the apartment re-enacting scenes from their testosterone-laced favorite movies. Remember when Headline News had an all-news, every half-hour format and would loop stories throughout the night? Watching "The Wolfpack," you feel like you're caught in an endless loop. I kept asking - out loud at one point - "Why are we watching this?" Formless, pointless and torturously overlong even at 80 minutes, "The Wolfpack" gives documentary film a black eye.

I don't walk out of many films, but a friend and I gave up about an hour and a quarter into Michael Winterbottom's head-scratching "The Face of an Angel," with the talented Daniel Brühl wasted as a reporter in Siena for (the movie's fictionalized version of) the appeal of Amanda Knox's conviction. Winterbottom, whose hilarious "The Trip to Italy" secured the #4 spot on my list of last year's best films, resolutely refuses to delve into the murder itself; he uses Brühl as his mouthpiece to pontificate that nobody will ever know the truth, and that the trial is just an exercise in presentation (now aren't those fresh ideas?).

Far better to present possible versions of the events in question and leave us to decide for ourselves, as Errol Morris did in his groundbreaking "The Thin Blue Line." By throwing his hands up, Winterbottom leaves us in the unpleasant company of a cynical man hopped up on ever-increasing quantities of cocaine. We left about when he hallucinated Knox eating a human heart (or was that the blonde author he fucked, or the blonde waitress he fucked)?

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