Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack (2015) follows the extraordinary lives of six brothers, the Angulo’s, whose childhoods were spent almost entirely confined within a New York apartment. Their eventual escape would come from an unexpected source – Hollywood.
Brothers Bhagavan, Govinda, Narayana, Mukunda, Krisna and Jagadesh are the product of a Peruvian father (Oscar Angulo) and American mother (Susanne Angulo) who, after meeting on the trail of Machu Picchu, subsequently settled in New York 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.
For many, film provides a temporary escape from reality, for the Angulos 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’. Enamoured by the worlds they find the brothers meticulously transcribe and create ingenious costume to enact Hollywood classics like ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’
Film would also foster literal escape as The Wolfpack sees the brothers begin to explore the city using Hollywood’s tropes as a blueprint to navigate the world beyond. It was on one such trip 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.
Despite the brother’s creativity, resilience and humour moments of considerable shade colour Moselle’s study. She captures the oppressive claustrophobia of the apartment and the ever-present spectre of an abusive and authoritarian father haunts many of the interviews. Within the apartment powerful images of loneliness and isolation are abundant, lit often by the light of the glaring tv.
It is testament to Moselle’s relationship with the Angulos that she captures so many moments of authentic vulnerability and naivety. The Wolfpack is characterised by the rare innocence that can be found in so many scenes, like for example a ‘Dark Knight’ Batman costume made from cereal boxes or the brother’s first visit to the beach dressed in the style of ‘Reservoir Dogs’. In a subject with such potential for darkness, Moselle finds the light – creativity, brotherhood and hope.
Watch the trailer here:
Where can you find it?
The Wolfpack is available On Demand through Sky and NowTV and it is available to rent on Amazon, YouTube and Google for a couple of ££.