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June 08, 2015

THE WOLFPACK

Wolfpack-posterIt’s too bad that a first-time documentarian (Crystal Moselle) stumbled onto the extraordinary familial subjects of “The Wolfpack,” as opposed to an experienced filmmaker like, say, Errol Morris who would have better clarified the onion layers of context and indoctrination backstory that this documentary/cinema vérité-blend lacks and sorely needs. Still, despite its glaring flaws, the picture provides a compulsive viewing experience.

“The Wolfpack” works best if seen cold (as I did), so stop reading here if you want to enjoy the pure sense of miraculous discovery that this unusual film offers. Cinematic opportunities such as this are rare, so I advise you to stop reading this review.

The film is an off-kilter document of an unplanned domestic social experiment conducted by Oscar Angulo, a Peruvian-born husband and father of seven children (of which six are boys). Hippie Oscar met his adventurous Midwest American wife Susanne while leading an Inca Trail group hike that Susanne was on. It was the only job Oscar has had since meeting Susanne, who appreciated Oscar’s non-materialistic and antiauthoritarian values. Oscar expresses his intrinsic human freedom not to be “a slave to society,” by refusing to work and indulging in alcohol. Oscar describes himself as self-enlightened, as God. He has many rules for his children, and even more for his wife. Oscar’s Hare Krishna belief system means that he doesn’t want his family to be “contaminated by drugs, or by any philosophy or religion.” He thinks most Americans are the equivalent of programmed robots. He gave his children Sanskrit names (Visnu, Govinda, Mukunda, Bhagavan, Jagadisa, Krsna, and Oscar’s daughter Narayana). All of the boys wear a mane of black hair down his back.

WPA major stumble in Moselle’s doc lies in a failure to use chyron graphics with the Angulo brother’s names when the boys appear singly on-screen. The siblings share their father’s Peruvian dark skin, and handsome facial features. The older brothers are taller, with shockingly skinny bodies. How the children exercise enough inside their relatively small apartment to be in such good physical shape is yet one more of the film’s burning questions.

Circumstances led Oscar and his large family to live on the 16th floor of a New York City public housing project on the Lower East Side where his worst fears haunt him just beyond his apartment walls. The city pays Susanne to homeschool her children as a licensed teacher.

In one scene, Oscar describes how he felt when he first moved into the housing project: “It was like a piece of jail outside.” Elevator drug deals and murders inside the building convinced Oscar not to let his kids outside their apartment, with a few annually counted exceptions. One of Oscar’s sons (between the ages of 16 to 24) describes not leaving their large but modest apartment more than nine times per year. He says, “One particular year, we didn’t go out at all.” Another brother describes, “going though long periods of remaining quiet.”

Needless to say, the boys have lived with an inordinate sense of fear of the outside world. But when one brother describes how a SWAT team broke down their door and put the entire family in handcuffs while searching for weapons that didn’t exist; Oscar’s overprotection scores a big point.

Movies are a big deal for the kids. One brags about the family having over 5000 DVDs. The brothers escape from their physical prison by filming their recreation of gritty scenes from movies such as “Reservoir Dogs,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Batman: The Dark Knight.” Moselle leans too much on the treasure trove of ready-made video content at her disposal, but well exhibits the boys’ natural talents for filmmaking and acting. We can cull how the boys have gone about creating their own personalities based on Hollywood movies like “The Godfather.”

You can’t help but root for these highly articulate and reserved kids to make good in the real world. You just might be hearing more from the “Wolfpack,” as filmmakers in their own right.

Wolfpack3

Rated R. 80 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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