Sundance-winning documentary tells the story of six teenage boys who are isolated by their family, but learn about the world through movies
Featuring: Vishnu Angulo, Oscar Angulo, Krshna Angulo
Directed by: Crystal Moselle
Running time: 84 minutes
By Jay Stone
Meet the Angulos: Vishnu and Krisna and four other teenage brothers who mostly have Sanskrit names for some reason (I’m not sure how Oscar got in there.) They live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and have pretty well been confined to their tiny apartment for all of their young lives. Their father, a Peruvian immigrant living on welfare, says he was afraid of the bad influences of New York City and so kept his children locked up and isolated. Their mother is a teacher who home-schooled them.
The six brothers have no computer or cell phones; they look at the world through a small window with a view of the local Holiday Inn. They also have another kind of window: a collection of 5,000 movies that they watched obsessively. They can quote extensively from Pulp Fiction or The Godfather (their favourite film of all time followed, for the record, by JFK, Gone With the Wind and Lord of the Rings). They re-create scenes from Reservoir Dogs, dressing in dark suits and sunglasses and shooting toy guns that they have made out of cardboard. Their production design is ingenious: the Angulo homage to The Dark Knight includes a Batman whose outfit is made of a cut-up yoga mat and cereal boxes.
“It makes me feel like I’m living,” one of the brothers says about the movies. “Sort of.”
The Wolfpack is the record of a bizarre and abusive social experiment — although the elder Angulo wouldn’t look at it that way — of what happens when six normal young men are raised in isolation. The results are surprising: the boys are genial, friendly, smart, and deeply involved with one another. They’re also slightly odd, of course, but anyone who watches Reservoir Dogs that many times is heading for trouble anyway.
Director Crystal Moselle — who apparently ran into the boys one day on one of their rare forays into the streets of the city — films The Wolfpack in verite fashion, capturing the theatre of the absurd carried out in their small public housing flat and providing glimpses of their eccentric parents. The senior Angulo is interviewed briefly near the end of the movie, and he doesn’t provide much insight into his motives. (His sons say he refused to be a “working-class robot;” i.e. employed.)
The boys, though, are fascinating (there is one girl in the family, but she has mental health issues and is rarely seen.) They wear their hair in long ponytails and have surprisingly cheery dispositions that speak of a deep resilience. They have left their apartment only a few times over the years, but during the course of The Wolfpack, we see them leaving more often, a group of hip-looking young men walking down the big city streets with the confident struts of movie stars. The highlight is a forbidden trip to a cinema to see David O. Russell’s The Fighter, an outing that one of the boys says he will remember for a long time.
The experience of being filmed seems to have opened something in the Wolfpack boys and they speak frankly about their growing disaffection with their father and with their forced solitude. They begin to move into the world; not surprisingly, they want to get into the movie business, and we see scenes of their low-budget, high-concept creativity. It turns out that the Angulos, like all actors, really want to direct, and judging from what we see in The Wolfpack, the results should be worth watching.
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