Saturday, February 18, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Marwencol (2010) ****

NR, 83 min.
Director: Jeff Malmberg
Starring: Mark Hogancamp

This is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s surprising, heartwarming, shocking, intelligent, a little weird, naked, and beautiful. Those last two are its most striking features. It’s a close and intimate story. It may sound quirky in its description and may seem like one of those strange people stories, but it isn’t. It is so much more than you might imagine from my mere recommendation here.

The movie follows the passion of Mark Hogancamp, who has built an imaginary world in his back yard. He’s built that world out of original G.I. Joe-style military dolls and Barbies. He composes scenarios with the dolls in a make believe Belgian town called Marwencol. The town is a World War II safe haven, where American and German soldiers agree not to fight so they can drink and enjoy the beautiful women who inhabit it. Mark photographs the scenes he composes in his doll town. The photos are striking.

But, what drives a grown man to play with dolls and develop such an intricate fantasy involving them? Mark was once an alcoholic. One night, five young men savagely beat him after he left the bar. He was beaten so severely that his face had to be reconstructed and his brain was so damaged he lost his memory in its entirety and had to re-learn how to talk, read and write. The dolls are his therapy. They help him develop his finger dexterity and act as an outlet for his frustrations over his attack.

I don’t believe there is anything I can write about this film that can express what a treasure it is. Mark’s photography is an incredible artistic expression in and of itself. The portrait this film presents of a wounded man, who must rebuild his life from scratch, is both sad and inspiring. The study of art as therapy is invaluable. And, throughout the entire film Mark’s psyche stands naked before the camera. His confessions are profound and continuously change our perception of him and his passionate pursuit of the world of his imagination as expressed in the town of Marwencol.

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