Thursday, June 18, 2015

Prisoners of the movies

A startling documentary about kids raised in isolation.
Director Crystal Moselle shot her documentary The Wolfpack over the course of five years. When you see the film, you'll understand why. Moselle immerses us in the lives of six New York young people who have led a distinctively strange life.

The Angulo children -- five boys and a mentally challenged older sister -- were prohibited by their father from leaving their apartment in a lower Manhattan housing project.

To make matters even stranger, the Angulo brothers learned about the outside world by watching movies their dictatorial father supplied.

Using imagination and ingenuity, the brothers took things a step further, copying the scripts of movies (Reservoir Dogs, for example) and acting them out inside their home. They donned dark suits and used a variety of homemade props -- guns made of cardboard -- to add a sense of realism.

Eventually, one of the brothers defies his dictatorial father and ventures out of the house. He breaks a barrier, and the others follow suit, bringing the Angulos and their mother into a world about which they know little -- aside from the fact that their father has told them that New York is dangerous and that no one other than family members should be trusted.

The story tells us how weird situations evolve: The boys' mother met their father during a trip to Peru. The couple moved to New York, hoping for a brief stay. They got stuck. Dad doesn't work, but collects welfare. Mom home-schools her kids.

Fascinating -- if a bit repetitive -- The Wolfpack succeeds because the Angulos are appealing and because their bizarre upbringing doesn't seem to have destroyed them.

Moselle leaves plenty of questions unanswered. She interviews no experts about the impact such an upbringing might have had on the boys, and she never plays social worker.

So, if you're looking for a documentary to dot every "i" and cross every "t," you'll be disappointed, but The Wolfpack's disturbing story is interesting enough to make this a documentary unto itself -- a New York story so odd, it's almost impossible to believe.

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