Monday, November 22, 2010


With excellently done blown-up photographs and stop motion animation, Jeff Malmberg makes viewing the town of "Marwencol" as absorbing for the audience as it is for its creator Mark Hogencamp. This is a good first documentary, flawed (it can be aimless, repetitive, and a bit trite) but well-deviced and observant all the same.

Hogencamp was accosted by people in a bar (apparently after he revealed his penchant for cross-dressing). This assault impaired his brain functionality and wiped all memories of his life before out. (It also, beneficially, did away with his alcoholism.) After he recovered his motor skills, etc., he set to work on building Marwencol, Belgium, set during the Second World War and a convergence of soldiers forced to be kind with one another. (The Nazis, whom Mark equates to his drinking problems, invade at times.) He filled this with replicas of his acquaintances, which of course creates a strange parallel with the people they represent. Not only is his mom there, but also the married woman he developed a very strong attraction to (and married in Marwencol) and waitresses at the restaurant at which he works (when he kills off one of them, the person in question is a little perturbed).

Hogencamp took very meticulous photography of the miniature town, which eventually got its own art show. We see two people who expose the work to the broader world: a photographer (who's also Mark's neighbor) and a magazine editor. The photographer sees the pictures without patronization. The magazine editor purveys condescension, noting that there's "no irony" in Mark's shots. Malmberg and his film admirably for the most part lean towards the photographer's perspective.

The film paints a big picture of Hogencamp. It sometimes shows him as a bit unusual (what with his marriage to a doll and his fictionally-realized relationship with his married neighbor). It also allots him commentary, which is unabashedly sentimental. These things, both of which could be seen as negative traits (the former as exploitative, the latter as slightly truistic), balance each other out, and the film with both is altogether better. "Marwencol" should have been granted a spot on the Academy's documentary shortlist; it's not formally polished, but what it does makes up for that. B

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