Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack documents the lives of the six Angulo brothers Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krisna and Jagadesh. Boys who spent their childhood almost entirely confined within a New York apartment and who found escape through film. The brothers are a product of a Peruvian father (Oscar Angulo) and American mother (Susanne Angulo) who met on the trail of Machu Picchu and subsequently settled in New York City with hopes of emigrating to Scandinavia. On moving to New York, Oscar who was heavily influenced by the teachings of Hare Krishna, was struck by the chaotic nature of the modern capitalist city he saw around him, and fearing the dangers of socialisation for his children kept them for sometimes years at a time in their small apartment. Their father’s influence on the boys is strikingly visual, they are a product of his desire to make his ‘own race’, a concept he partly enforced through assigning all of the children Sanskrit names. They dress in matching clothes and most strikingly all have long waist length dark hair. This documentary captures on film the brother’s survival, through film.
Film for most of us provides a temporary escape from reality, for the Angulo brothers it functioned as much more. Hollywood movies not only punctured the insular world of their apartment but also allowed the boys to imagine new realities. As Mukunda says ‘movies opened up another world.’ The brothers meticulously transcribe and create ingenious costume to enact Hollywood classics like ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ The documentary also follows the brother’s literal escape and the part that film plays in this, as they begin to explore the city using what Hollywood has taught them as a blueprint to navigate the world beyond. It was on one of these rare trips into New York that filmmaker Crystal Moselle, struck by their unusual appearance, noticed the brothers and formed an unlikely friendship. This relationship would produce 500 hours of film over five years and go on to secure the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2015.
The brilliance of this film is its surprising warmth, despite the subject matters great potential for darkness. This is not to say the film doesn’t have its moments of shade. Moselle captures the claustrophobia of the apartment through her intimate close up interviews with the boys all conducted within their home, and it is testament to her relationship that they expose such painful vulnerability and fear. She also permits the spectre of an abusive and authoritarian father to oppressively haunt these interviews through his absence on camera until half way through the film. The film abounds with powerful images of loneliness and isolation, where the only light illuminating the apartment is that of a small glaring tv.
But what shines through in this film is creativity, resilience and brotherhood. There is so much humour in the enactments of the movies the boys recreate. A particularly great moment is the boy’s take on ‘The Dark Knight’, complete with a Batman costume made from cereal boxes and yoga mats. There is also such beauty in the truly rare childlike purity and naivety that Moselle captures in the boy’s experiences in New York. This beauty is pushed further by the brother’s looking and talking as though they have just walked off of the set of Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs.’ But what I felt most watching this documentary was the uplifting feeling that these boys had finally made their own real movie. This film has such depth and complexity, far greater than I could attempt to capture in a single post, but I can guarantee it will be unlike anything you have seen before, and I hope you find the time to watch it.
Where can you find it?
Pretty much everywhere, Sky have it On Demand, Amazon, NowTV, YouTube and Google for a couple of $$.