The Wolfpack (Magnolia Pictures, R)

The-Wolfpack 75Moselle’s The Wolfpack tells a story that it’s hard to imagine coming across too often, and it’s a good thing we didn’t miss out on it.

 

 

 

 

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Here we have a documentary about an immigrant man who marries an American woman, has a bunch of kids, collects money from the government, and pointedly refuses to work (and indeed apparently stays drunk most of the time) to protest the government. Good thing a conservative filmmaker didn’t get a hold of this material before actual director Crystal Moselle did! Because Moselle’s The Wolfpack tells a story that it’s hard to imagine coming across too often, and it’s a good thing we didn’t miss out on it.

Not that Ms. Moselle goes easy on the above-mentioned immigrant, in this case the Peruvian Oscar Angulo; Oscar has seven children, one girl and six boys, whom he doesn’t let out of his Manhattan apartment more than once or twice a year. The same quarantining goes for his American wife, Susanne—only Oscar leaves the apartment with any regularity (if you want to call it that—he goes but once a week or so), and only then to get groceries.

The Wolfpack focuses on the six Angulo boys, as the girl, Visnu, has some developmental disabilities. The children were all homeschooled, as one might guess (also homeschooling brings in a governmental paycheck), and they spend their free time watching as many movies as possible. (Oscar has a good collection of VHS tapes and DVDs.) Since they have nothing but time on their hands, not only do they obsessively watch these movies but also obsessively transcribe the screenplays and recreate scenes themselves. The end result is something like a documentary version of Dogtooth, minus the perversity.

You can tell from the opening scene that the Angulo boys are very smart, talented, and creative. As the film opens, the boys are recreating scenes from Reservoir Dogs, and if you’re like me you’ll be taken with how well they’re able not only to imitate the dialogue and actions, but the cadence and pronunciation of people like Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi (less so Michael Madsen). Later in the film we have them building alarmingly large fires in the apartment, recreating scenes from The Dark Knight in a very good-looking Batman costume that we come to learn was made out of old yoga mats and cereal boxes. This is how they spend their time.

It’s already been reported in the media that the Angulo boys do, unsurprisingly, like this movie made about them. (But do they like it enough to recreate scenes from it? Because that would be funny.) Pushing further, apparently patriarch Oscar also likes it, which is interesting, as the film makes him out to be someone who would probably be better off in jail, or at least someone who deserves to have his family removed from him. The one question that popped first in my head was what Quentin Tarantino would think of this film, as the boys pick him as a favorite filmmaker, alongside Francis Ford Coppola and other luminaries of American cinema, and of course Tarantino is an obsessive movie fan himself. The answer to that question has also been in the media—Tarantino, unsurprisingly, likes it.

As implied in the above paragraph, The Wolfpack is a film you’re likely to find yourself reading up on after you watch it, as it leaves a lot of obvious questions unanswered within the text of the film, but a quick trip on the Google train can give you the information you want. A lot of this is obvious stuff, which one would expect to be in the film. For example, it’s never made clear how Ms. Moselle came to film this group of shut-ins in their home for so long; if Oscar et al. is so reluctant to let anyone in his family interact with the outside world, what made her case any different? And how did they come to meet her in the first place? Elsewhere, if Oscar is from Peru and Susanne from the Midwest, how did they wind up in New York? And the film also doesn’t tell you too much about what the boys get up to after the events of the film, so don’t expect much from the customary end-of-film titles that tell you what they’ve been doing more recently.

In this lack of answers to obvious-seeming questions, I would expect a certain percentage of the film’s audience to be at least somewhat disappointed in this film; it’s more of an ethereal character study than a straightforward narrative documentary, and as such will likely frustrate some viewers. To those who are patient with films that don’t spoon-feed you all of the answers, though, this will be one of the more memorable movie experiences of the year. | Pete Timmermann

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