In theaters now is The Wolfpack, an extraordinary new documentary by Crystal Moselle. Winner of the 2015 Grand Jury Documentary prize at Sundance this past January, this film—produced and edited by women, and with a mostly-female crew—tells the story of the six young Angulo brothers, who were raised in New York City with little to no contact with the outside world.
Paranoid the “drugs and crime” of the city would harm them, the boys’ father kept the door to their Lower East Side housing project apartment locked at all times, a ladder wedged tightly against it. They were home-schooled by their Mother, also kept under lock-and-key; aside from one outing every couple of years, their only relationship to the world outside of their apartment was through movies.
Left to right: Govinda Angulo, Crystal Moselle (dir), Eddie (formerly Jagadisa) Reisenbichler, Megan Delaney (producer), and Glenn (formerly Krsna) Reisenbichler. Foreground/kneeling: Mukunda Angulo
Photo by Haleigh Tereba
With endearingly palpable passion, these boys stage letter-perfect reenactments of their favorite films, complete with elaborately-detailed costumes fashioned from mundane household items. Dark Knight-era Batman is made of yoga mats and cereal boxes. Pulp Fiction’s Winnie Wolfe (Harvey Keitel’s character) wields a spray bottle instead of a hose to clean off the bloodied protagonists.
Equally as extraordinary as the fervent imaginations of these brothers—now ranging in age from 16 to 23—is the steady eye/lens of Crystal Moselle as she tells their story. As much a character in the film as they are, we hear her many times throughout the course of the movie; most significantly when she confronts their father, Oscar, about apologizing: “Did you ever think of maybe telling them you were sorry?”
In a profoundly tense moment, her query is met by a blustering stream of incoherent phrases in broken English, one being “I am a God.” During this near-rant, he moves closer and closer to her camera and is quickly lead away by one of the brothers, all who are sweetly protective of their director friend throughout the film.
Moselle’s friendship with the six brothers—striking in appearance, with waist-length jet-black hair throughout the five years she filmed them—began when they ran past her on the street in the East Village one day in 2010. They had just begun defying their father and escaping the apartment at that point, and Moselle spent a good deal of time just being friends and talking about films and cameras with them before visiting their apartment and realizing there was a deeper story there, one that needed to be told.
The Wolfpack is not so much a piece about overcoming adversity; not a piece about calling out or punishing the father. The really sublime part of this film is how uplifting it is despite the disturbing central fact of the boys’ upbringing. Moselle’s way of observing and gentle presence bounces off the positivity of the boys and the charming way they dive into the world of movies.
You don’t come away thinking about how they used film to distract themselves from an abusive situation. You come away thinking about how genuine their love of movies is, and how brilliant they are; how brilliant Moselle is at being there and letting their stories unfold. The pathos is there, but familial love and beauty are the presiding themes. The timing is perfect; these gifted young men (and their mother!) come into their own before our eyes. Slowly they tell their backstory too—interspersed with wildly entertaining snippets of their reenacted movie scenes, band practices, and clips of them dancing around the apartment to 80s songs.
Like the boys, this film is a powerful force to be reckoned with—and one that should be seen by all.
Watch the trailer:
Review by Leah Cary
Photos courtesy Magnolia Pictures