Release: Friday, June 12, 2015 (limited)
Directed by: Crystal Moselle
Short film director Crystal Moselle’s first feature-length documentary probably would have never happened if she weren’t on the right street corner at the right time of day. Her chance encounter with the Angulo brothers on the streets of New York one afternoon would seem like serendipity had it not been for the director and the boys sharing one major interest: a love of movies. For the subjects of this incredible film, maybe the statistical improbability of their run-in is more like karma.
Six young men with long-flowing, dark hair, dressed to the nines á la the guys from Reservoir Dogs and running down a New York avenue would probably seem to many a cause for concern, a group with only mischief on their minds. But Moselle wasn’t intimidated as much as she was fascinated by their presence. Four years later and their life story — or the story as it had been controlled up until that point — would serve as the basis for one of 2015’s most intriguing and unique documentary films.
The Wolfpack captures the Angulo family as they go about living in a cramped four-bedroom apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At film’s open the family dynamic reveals nothing untoward: boys are being boys and re-enacting their favorite scenes from their favorite Scorsese, Tarantino and Nolan movies (albeit with a creative fervor that should have them nominated for best home-made costumes). Mom and dad are elsewhere. Their young sister is separated, less interested in the collective cinematic obsession.
Fairly early on it’s difficult to ignore a crushing sense of stagnation, though. This isn’t a home of hoarding nor of physical abuse leading to the complete dissolution of the family unit. Rather, the Angulos have been living a hermitic lifestyle because of their father, Oscar. The Peruvian immigrant fundamentally disagrees with the way in which American society runs. Intensely afraid the dangers and influences of the outside world would have a negative impact on his family, he has rarely allowed them to leave the building. He keeps the only key to the apartment and monitors his wife’s weekly grocery trips. We’re not talking about a situation where the boys are restricted to socializing only on the weekends. This is total isolation.
This was a situation that had been ongoing for 14 years prior to the director stumbling upon them on the street. One of the older brothers informs us that a good year might have yielded a half dozen trips outside, while during a particularly bad year they never got out at all. Ventures outdoors were more likely when the season’s right. The same applied to their sister and their mother, who had been homeschooling her children while collecting on welfare. (Oscar also fundamentally disagreed with the concept of holding down a job.)
Moselle’s work isn’t the most tightly focused documentary you’ll see, but that’s because she’s aiming at extracting the essence of the Angulo’s personal relationships and how film has shaped and informed their lives. She’s there for the good times as much as she is for the bad; even though interviews remain fairly casual and lighthearted, a lingering look in an eye or a reluctant smile tells another story. There are moments where anger and bitterness surface, though the Angulo boys are, with these extreme conditions considered, remarkably well-adjusted. Polite, well-spoken and each intelligent and thoughtful, it’s often difficult reconciling their potential with the sheer number of opportunities that they’ve been denied.
The Wolfpack offers a fairly disturbing story but it’s never confronting. It’s intimate and honest; moving and at times absurdly comical. I’m left wondering, after viewing the footage themselves, if any of these brothers would end up owning this on DVD. They strike me more as the action/thriller/crime-drama crowd but after all they’ve been through together, re-watches of their own history could prove to be both a powerful reminder of history and a reinvigorating push forward into the future.
Recommendation: An inspiration for cinephiles everywhere, if there ever were one. Er, . . . one not named Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This quietly powerful documentary serves as a testament to the power of film and of brotherhood. Undoubtedly one of the year’s most memorable stories. Highly el-recommended-o.
Running Time: 86 mins.
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