Directed by Crystal Moselle
Magnolia Pictures, 89 minutes, R (language)
* * * *
What if Being There's Chance the Gardener was real? And what if there were seven Chances, all from the same family, each brainwashed with some very odd religious beliefs? Documentary filmmaker Crystal Moselle probes these questions in her fascinating look inside New York City's Angulo family, and the answers are probably not what you'd expect.
This is all well and good until the boys reach their teens and Borg-like group-think clashes with emerging individualism. But, like Chance the Gardener, the only social skills they possess are those they infer from TV and film. The first to sneak out of the apartment quickly attracts the attention of police and social workers when he pops in and out of New York shops wearing a Mike Myers mask because he was afraid people would be alarmed by his appearance! When the lads are allowed to go to an actual cinema for the first time, they hit the streets dressed in matching black suits and sunglasses like the ensemble cast of Reservoir Dogs.
Can such children integrate into mainstream society? How will Oscar react as personalities bloom and tresses are trimmed? These are among the unanswered questions; other include: How does this family support itself? Why is Susanne so passive? What do the kids think of Oscar's religious views? How did Moselle find this family and why did it agree to be filmed? It is intimated that there has been abuse—and Oscar is prone to drunkenness—just as it is implied that Susanne might be brainwashed and that daughter Krisna [sic] is developmentally disabled, but these things are never explained. In addition, the time sequencing is quite confusing in places and it's very hard to distinguish between the boys who, for most of the film, look alike and do not (yet) possess individual identities.
Moselle opts for voyeuristic filmmaking within a non-judgmental frame. That's understandable to some degree, as one certainly would not wish to get in the way of such intriguing material. On the other hand, Moselle's approach makes for rocky viewing on a meta level. In essence, we are watching Moselle watch the Angulos who are watching each other, gauging Oscar's reaction, and (occasionally) glimpse the outside world. As a five-times removed audience, though, it's hard not to desire more explanation and resolution. Desire it, but don't expect it. Let it be enough to bear witness to an extraordinary family. You will be fascinated and horrified, hopeful and angry, joyful and sad—probably in equal measures.