The Wolfpack’s story should be overwhelmingly depressing. In fact, at times, it is. The film’s topic is the Angulo family: in particular the seven children who have all been raised on welfare in a tiny four-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They’re only hardly ever allowed to leave their home because of their strict and overprotective father, who has the only key to the permanently locked front door. Some years, they never actually go outside.
Rather than wallowing in their injustice, though, there’s an indomitable spirit that surrounds the Angulo siblings, which you can’t help but be warmed by. And it’s to The Wolfpack director Crystal Moselle’s eternal credit that the overriding aura of the film is one of hope and promise rather than toil and pain. Moselle started shooting this film back in 2010, when Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Muknda, Krisna, Jagadesh and Visnu were aged between 11 and 18. She met them on one of their rare excursions outside, and was immediately interested by their plight. You can check out an interview of her describing The Wolfpack, and how she got involved below.
But how do the Angulos remain so upbeat in the face of their troubles? Well, it turns out that cinema has bonded them together. When they weren’t being home-schooled by their mother, they would each devour the mountains of DVDs and videos that they had at their disposal. This passion grew into such a fervor that they soon decided to re-enact each film. In fact, within the confines of their small abode, they created their very own little studio. One brother would type out an entire script by re-watching the film line by line. Props and scenery were created, and then each sibling would star.
The Wolfpack shows us the fruits of their labor, and we’re privy to performances of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Nightmare Before Christmas, No Country For Old Men, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. The family's passion and adulation for all things cinema is truly contagious and engrossing, and you can’t help but be pulled into their tale. In fact, rather than feeling sorry for them, Moselle allows their personalities to light up The Wolfpack, and you find yourself shocked at just how well adjusted they are.
Unfortunately, because they are the highlights of the film, The Wolfpack sparingly uses scenes of the Angulo brothers’ re-enactments. Instead they punctuate moments, and are a welcome relief to the film’s intimate examination of the family. That doesn’t stop this unique coming-of-age tale from being one of the most heartfelt and touching documentaries of 2015 though, as it organically grows thanks to the camaraderie and presence of the brothers as they begin to branch out from their peculiar upbringing.
Tender, funny, heartbreaking and gloriously gritty, The Wolfpack is a must for any movie connoisseur, while it’s also a reminder of just how powerful the medium can be.
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