Mistaken for Strangers
Heartbreaking, hilarious, and almost uncomfortably human at times, Mistaken for Strangers is a highly unlikely struggling artist comedy and rock doc rolled into one highly entertaining package.
29 year old aspiring horror movie filmmaker, metalhead, and generally laid back dude Tom Berninger was looking for something to do, so he decided to follow his big brother Matt out on tour with his indie rock band. Matt just so happens to be the lead singer for The National, one of the biggest buzz bands in the world at the moment. He has absolutely no clue what kind of a film he wants to make and precious little interest in the kind of tunes his brother’s band pumps out. Even worse, the only way he was able to get on tour in the first place was to take a job as a roadie working for the band’s tour manager, a position he’s even worse at than being a filmmaker thanks to his aloof nature, lack of focus, and desire to lead an actual rock and roll lifestyle. When Tom gets shitcanned from his job, he moves in with his brother and sister-in-law with hopes of making something out of his seemingly all over the place footage.
For all that Berninger does wrong on screen he does a lot of things right (with the help of Matt’s wife, Carin Besser, the film’s co-editor and co-producer). The film isn’t about a band that has struggled from relative obscurity to become the kind of band that gets invited to play at Obama rallies and show up on national talk shows. It isn’t even about how the band itself is made up of two other pairs of brothers that fall in behind Matt. It’s about the tenuous relationship between siblings that clearly have a deep love and affection for each other that simply drive each other insane and an unspoken desire for the fun loving Tom to make his famous, more taciturn brother proud of him. It’s incredibly touching to watch it unfold because it’s clear that Tom isn’t a bad guy or a malicious fuck up and that Matt isn’t trying at all to wish harm upon or roll his eyes at his little bro all the time. In fact, in a pair of scenes where both have to deal with the disappointment and frustration of their hard work getting screwed up (a disastrously glitch show for Matt and a botched screening of the film’s rough cut for Tom) it’s clear that these very artistically minded brothers are more alike than they probably realize.
But perhaps best of all is that one doesn’t even remotely have to be a fan of The National to enjoy the story. The music and look at fame through the eyes of a tangential family member are always secondary to the vastly more intriguing journey of the filmmaker himself. It was one of the most well received documentaries to play Hot Docs last year and it’s not hard to see why that was the case.
The National will be on hand tonight (Thursday, April 10th) to present a special sneak preview of the film at 6:30pm.
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
Told through a mixture of archival footage, photographs, narrated missives, and current interviews from relatives and current residents of the relatively still under-inhabited Galapagos Islands, Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s look at a mysterious and deadly dispute between residents in a remote “community” in the 1930s is part unsolved murder mystery, part anthropological history, and entirely too scattershot to work as a complete whole.
Fleeing Berlin in 1929 to not only avoid the rise of Nazism but humanity altogether, Nietzsche loving Doctor Frederich Ritter (voiced by Thomas Kretschmann, reading letters and journal entries) and his love starved wife Dore Strauch (Cate Blanchett) sail away to an untouched island in the famed archipelago off the Ecuadorian coast known as Floreana. It isn’t long before their quest for solitude is shaken by the arrival of the kindly Heinz and Margret Wittmer (Sebastien Koch and Diane Kruger), who wish to raise a family and who have grander ideas of forming a community that Frederich and Dore want no part in. Even more distressing is the arrival of an eccentric, gun toting baroness (Connie Nielsen) who comes with a pair of love slaves in tow and who wishes to build a grand hotel on the island to the chagrin of both couples. Over time one of these residents will mysteriously disappear and another will die under very suspicious circumstances.
Geller and Goldfine do their best sticking to the core story and key players. While it’s necessary to show in great detail the very clearly outlined beefs and differences of opinion between the island residents for the closing mystery to feel impactful (as well as the media sensation caused by Frederich, Dore, and the baroness), everything else involving distant relatives and current residents ruminating on the mystery and island life in general slow the film down greatly and drag it out to an unnecessary two hour running time. There’s a great 80 minute or so story here, but when the same points about human nature and the desire for autonomy keep getting repeated it gets more than a little frustrating.
Directors Daniel Geller and Danya Goldfine will participate in post-screening Skype Q&As following the 6:30pm performance on Friday, April 11th and the 5:30pm performance on Sunday, April 13th.
Also at The Bloor this week:
The PEN Picks series wraps up on Monday, April 14th at 6:15pm with novelist and former Toronto Star columnist Linwood Barclay hosting a screening of Sons of Perdition, Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten’s look at three young men attempting to break away from their Mormon upbringing.
There will be a special screening of Otousan: The Life of Masami Tsuruoka on Saturday afternoon at 4:00pm. The documentary looks at the life of the founder of the first ever karate academy in Canada.