You All Are Captains Dir. Oliver Laxe

[Zeitun Films; 2011]

Styles: meta/pseudo-documentary, self-reflexive nonsense
Others: Where Is My Friend’s Home?, Salaam Cinema, but not good

Taking the form of a meta-documentary, Oliver Laxe’s You All Are Captains attempts to present both a portrait of the daily lives of a group of youth in Tangiers, Morocco and an examination of their increasingly stressed relations with the documentary-within-the-film director, whose specious motives tip off others around him that his concerns lie more with his own film than the children he’s working with. Given the subject and approach, comparisons with Iranian heavyweight directors Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf are unavoidable, but unfortunately for Laxe, the similarities never extend beyond the superficial.

Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf often blur the line between fiction and documentary to the point that they’re indistinguishable, using this ambiguity as a way of addressing their audiences and their own culpability in interpreting and presenting the characters’/subjects’ subjective reality. In his early work, particularly the masterful Where Is My Friend’s Home?, Kiarostami shows a deft understanding of (mis)communication between children and adults and the ways that the inevitable imbalance of power often unfairly shapes the former’s existence and does so by presenting the children with a certain depth and compassion, rather than two-dimensional pawns.

Oliver Laxe, as the director of both You All Are Captains and the documentary within the film, seems completely disinterested in the human component of his subjects, which would be fine if his attempts to give them a subtextual significance through his meta-narrative — that is, if the clichéd metaphor of director-as-tyrant can even feign significance — were not so uninspired and painfully flat, dramatically and thematically. What is remarkably strange is how after 30 minutes of mundane sequences of Laxe having the children film their surroundings, we are suddenly told how horrible he treats them. The children voice their frustrations, saying they don’t understand the film’s ultimate goal. But because earlier they seemed fascinated by being able to use real film equipment and were happy to spend time with their friends, what occurred and what is being told to us simply don’t match up.

The remainder of You All Are Captains, with Laxe trying to work his way back into the group’s good graces, is equally aimless, but perhaps even more frustrating is its incoherence. The lack of communication and compassion between Laxe and the children lie at the core of the film, but this conflict is neither dramatized nor contextualized, leaving a frustratingly piecemeal final result that seems content to coast by solely on its shallowly executed meta approach. Ultimately, what is a worthy premise is squandered, as the delineation between fact and fiction is never satisfactorily examined, since either way, it’s bullshit.

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