Saturday, February 11, 2012

The kids are all right

Posted By on 02.11.12 at 12:32 PM

A scene from You All Are Captains
  • A scene from You All Are Captains
Oliver Laxe, a Paris-born, Spanish-raised filmmaker in his late 20s, understands the educational nature of cinema. He suggested as much when he moved to Tangiers in 2007 and started Dao Byed, a 16mm filmmaking workshop for disadvantaged youth. His experiences there led to his first feature-length film, You All Are Captains, a documentary-fiction hybrid that has its Chicago premiere at Cinema Borealis this Sunday at 7pm (presented by White Light Cinema). Laxe plays a caricature of himself in the film, leading a group of young students in the making of a movie.

Because it's nearly impossible to tell which moments are staged and which moments aren't, You All Are Captains is an affirmation of the inherent paradox of cinema—in other words, its propensity to be two things at the same time: real and artificial; honest and disingenuous. Laxe's film is a fine documentation of this very notion, seen in its faithful depiction of the cinematic process, the technical and the creative alike. The children in the film have little use for the former. An early scene in which Laxe lectures on the way a camera's lens distorts the subject it's filming, producing what is at best a mirror image, registers glazed-over looks from his students.

Real exuberance arises when the class hits the streets and put theory into action, their youthful anarchism recalling the likes of Jean Vigo's Zero de Conduite. For them, the idea of shooting a film is a game. But, of course, not everyone plays fair. Laxe and his assistants spend much of this allotted “production time” wrangling the children, begging them to focus and participate.

When things finally calm down, they stage scenes of petty street crimes, either of their own design or Laxe's—it's impossible to tell which. Yet such questions are ultimately irrelevant, as the matter of authorship is one of You All Are Captain's grandest conceits. Laxe assigns a different "role" to children each time they set out to film: one day, they're "the director"; the next, they're "the actor."

Considering the collaborative effort that is filmmaking, Laxe is apt to prescribe such amorphous definitions to these words, even though it confuses his young colleagues. They accuse him of gathering images "like fruit" and decry him for neglecting the importance of story. Appropriately enough, in one of the film's more explicitly scripted scenes, Laxe is dismissed from his position as the children's instructor for his apparent misappropriation of the children's time and welfare.

With a new teacher in tow, they take to a mountainous countryside on the outskirts of their village, in hopes of finding new images to film. Here, Laxe is able to fully occupy the role of director, sharpening his mis en scene to pay closer attention to the details of this new terrain.

It's in these quieter, more serene sequences that You All Are Captains begins to crystallize as a truly anthropological study, proving to be just as concerned with landscape as it is with the epistemology of cinema. The welfare of the children, the subjects Laxe both employs and exalts, prove to be his primary concern from the get-go. The tenderness he feels for them is, ultimately, the film's truth and the reason for its making.

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