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"Catfish" is the story of a 24-year-old man in New York, Yaniv Schulman, who gets involved through the Internet with a family in Michigan.
The 8-year-old girl of that family, Abby, makes initial contact with Yaniv, who is a photographer of modern dance. Abby tells Yaniv that she found a picture of Yaniv's online, liked it, and painted a picture from it. She sends him a copy of her rendition, he is charmed, and the two begin an email friendship.
Soon, Abby's mother, Angela, takes over most of the correspondence. Besides Angela the mom, there's Vince the dad, Megan the 19-year-old sister, and cousins and friends. Yaniv enters into their lives in a pretty big way, exchanges 1,500 emails with them over 8 months. Or maybe that was 1,500 emails just with Megan. The correspondence with Megan, which also includes phone calls, gets hot and heavy.
The Pierce family becomes a big part of Yaniv's life, and so Yaniv's brother Ariel and his friend Henry Joost ask Yaniv if they can make a video documentary of his relationship with this family as it develops. Yaniv consents reluctantly. With Yaniv's life under close inspection it's only natural for all of us to start looking at this vivacious and artistic family from Ishpening (rural, Upper Peninsula) and wondering if they're really who they say they are.
The three young artistes from N.Y. eventually make a surprise visit to the Pierces' home in Ishpening, and the family they find is indeed named Abby, Vince, and Angela, but they're not at all as they have portrayed themselves. In fact, everything was a hoax invented by Angela. She's embarrassed but amazingly gracious. She allows the filmmakers to keep filming even as she confesses that she'd made up everything. Angela isn't what she pretended to be, but if she had been honest with Yaniv online, it's unlikely she would have had such an intense relationship with Yaniv, would she? And her relationship with Yaniv, though a complete fantasy, was the best thing going in her life. Her real life is hard and sad.
If the boys anticipate feeling any glee in confronting Angela and exposing her fraud, it is short-lived, possibly not lived at all, not a peep of glee. They're good boys, and it's to their credit that they can't muster any outrage at Angela. They catch on right away: If they had a life like Angela's they might be tempted to pull a like ruse, create a fantasy life online.
O Caminho das Nuvens (2003)
Poor family migrates from northwest Brazil to Rio
This is the (based on a true) story of a peasant family from northwest Brazil that migrates to Rio. They travel not how people usually do it, but as a family, on bicycles. Five children, mom and Dad, on five bicycles. Six months it takes them, and 3000 kilometers.
It's a wonderful premise for a movie, and I was disposed to like it. I've liked other films about NE Brazil. Vidas Secas by Nelson Pereira dos Santos; Me, You, Them by Andrucha Waddington; Central Station by Walter Salles. I'd like to take another look at the Glauber Rocha films if they ever become available.
But this well intentioned film just didn't make it for me. The actors were too pretty, too handsome, their teeth too perfect and white, their bodies conditioned in a gym, their faces unburnt by a lifetime in the sun. They were too clearly actors in a created scene that was too foreign to them. They just failed to meaningfully embody their characters. It felt like they were following a recipe for acting: recite lines, add so much of this or that emotion, make meaningful glances, and voila, soufflé.
In general, the "acted" scenes filmed in a studio didn't' feel right. They felt more like a mediocre made-for-TV telenovela.
The filmmakers missed the real grit of the sturm und drang of surviving on the road by your wits and your faith. Very few close-ups. The bicycles, for example: we never saw a greasy hand or a wrench or a spoke. The rich texture of the side of the road was strangely missing, such as the people who make huge pots of tripe and rice and beans and sell it to the truck drivers, half the price of restaurant food.
But the gravest mistake was the filmmakers attempt to make the picaresque, true story of a migration/pilgrimage fit into ready-made story lines, including one especially lame subplot about the coming-of-age of the oldest boy, Antonio, his conflict with the father. The eventual resolution of the conflict between father and son was downright bathetic. Saccharin-sweet sentimentality.
The scenes of Brazil were great. The roads, the berm, the sand, the daub and wattle, the life-beside-the-flow of the river/road, the landscape, the cactus, the hot dreamy little towns and villages with their brick streets and bright colors. But still, a little too pretty. I know the scene. I lived in rural northwest Brazil for 4 years and did 80,000 kilometers of traveling in Bahia. I lived in Feira de Santana for a few months, and that city is part of the movie. I love that part of the country and its people. I liked the scenes of Juazeiro.
One scene that totally failed for me was the whole "Panama" episode. It felt like it was written into the script.
The script as a whole was predictable. The attempts at character development seemed to come from the writing. Each time our travelers learn a new lesson, the filmmakers make them stand up and announce it.
The film would have worked better in documentary style, like say Slumdog Millionaire. Imagine if the filmmakers had paused a little more to explore the details of the roadside in northeast Brazil?