"Marwencol" is a documentary about the fantasy world of Mark Hogancamp. After being beaten into a brain-damaging coma by five men outside a bar, Mark builds a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard. Mark populates the town he dubs "Marwencol" with dolls representing his friends and family and creates life-like photographs detailing the town's many relationships and dramas. Playing in the town and photographing the action helps Mark to recover his hand-eye coordination and deal with the psychic wounds of the attack. When Mark and his photographs are discovered, a prestigious New York gallery sets up an art show. Suddenly Mark's homemade therapy is deemed "art", forcing him to choose between the safety of his fantasy life in Marwencol and the real world that he's avoided since the attack.Written by
As with all the very best documentaries, it's what is implied rather than what is said outright. This brilliantly restrained piece chooses to give subtle information at all the right times, perfectly conveying the emotion attached to its subject matter.
Previous alcoholic, bitter and angry, Mark Hogancamp was left in a coma after he received a savage beating outside a bar by five men. The resulting damage meant that he had also lost a lot of memory from the attack, losing details in his life (including his need for alcohol). Having lost his identity, Mark dealt with his traumas by constructing the titular miniature town of Marwencol, often reenacting scenes from flashes of memory, with toy dolls closely representing people in his life.
Brilliantly paced, we learn of Mark's life, anxieties, and fears, and learn of a lonely, highly intelligent individual, who just does not want any further pain in his life. Thus, retracting from life and society, to live through his doll-town stories.
If the first half is a little labouring in providing information to the viewer, the second half justifies this approach no end, as we compassionately learn of Mark's personality, what makes him comfortable, and the few real loves throughout his life. As well as the reason for the attack that so affected his life.
The film is never judgmental, never dwells on its issues more than others. Scenes of Mark walking a toy jeep 160 miles on his trips to the local stores in order to wear the wheels in and appear authentic, prove to be highly endearing rather than seem odd or snigger-inducing. When Mark's constructions are later discovered as works of art, he struggles with his preparation for a New York exhibition of his constructions and photography. Yet clearly his honesty and integrity have a strong effect on the people he encounters there. What we are left with in the end is an honest portrait of a man overcoming his life's traumas. Therapy through art, in the most dignified and humble of ways.
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