In the case of the Angulo family in Lower East Side Manhattan, a Peruvian father’s fear about the outside world and what might happen to his children if they step over the threshold of their shabby four bedroom apartment means that he has insisted that his six sons and one daughter grow up in an indoor seclusion. Describing drug dealing in the apartment block’s lift and killings in the neighbourhood, the father comments (without any sense of irony):
“It was a piece of jail outside.”
Most years the children left their flat just a handful of times – if at all – and were taught not to look at or engage with people they saw. Their mother’s allowance for home schooling has been the sole household income since their father’s other act of rebellion against society has been to not go out to work.
While cut off from real people, Dad has been feeding his kids a diet of VHS and DVD films. Like a family locked into Play Resource Warehouse, the children build brilliant cardboard props, replica costumes, type out scripts, learn off parts and film each other re-enacting elaborate scenes from their huge and varied library of cinema.
“Is this the end of the beginning?
Or the beginning of the end?
Losing control or are you winning?
Is your life real or just pretend?”
A year after first tasting freedom, by chance filmmaker Crystal Moselle meets the six dark haired young men dressed in their striking black suits and dark shades – a cross between Reservoir Dogs and Blues Brothers – and her gentle film The Wolfpack captures what happens next.
Grainy home movie footage of their film re-enactments is cut in with scenes of day to day life captured over a couple of years inside the apartment. The story is at first told by the children, with their mother Susanne later letting down her guard, and finally a few underwhelming contributions from the father Oscar.
There’s little to admire about Oscar: a paranoid man who sometimes slaps his wife when their argue.
The boys are all strong characters, but Susanne is the figure in The Wolfpack that I’m most drawn to. She’s trapped in an abusive marriage – “probably more rules for me than for them” – but seems to have stayed to look after the children. The eldest child – Visnu – has a developmental disorder and “lives in her own world”.
The Wolfpack mixes imagination with disbelief, fiction with real life, and despair with hope. It is neither voyeuristic nor exploitative. A unique coming of age film that is well worth catching at the Queen’s Film Theatre between Friday 21 and Thursday 27 August.