Friday, May 10, 2013

Hot Docs - Mistaken For Strangers [2013, Dir. Tom Berninger, USA]

  Mistaken For Strangers

When I'd read that The National's Matt Berninger's brother Tom Berninger directed this documentary of the band entitled Mistaken For Strangers, I had initially imagined it might be your standard tour documentary. Tom, whose film work prior to that, seemed to be relegated to low-budget, indie, horror movies (none of which I'd ever heard of), on his brother's request offered him a job as a roadie on their European / American tour, and also gave him permission to film them for a documentary.  The documentary is really only partially about The National on tour [which follows the band from locals such as Paris and Berlin, and then back to the U.S. for shows in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and their hometown of New York City] - life on the road, behind the scenes looks, interviewing the individual band members, clips of some of the more personal outbursts from Matt as well as the camera being directed towards Tom at times to speak . However what the underlying point of the documentary really is [and what is alluded to in the title of the documentary] is the peculiar relationship between Matt and Tom. What's apparent almost from the outset is how different the brothers are, - Tom the goof-ball, metal-head, younger brother and Matt the older, serious, indie-rock frontman and more successful one. And what may have seemed all sunny on the surface for Tom as he tries to film this documentary, balance his duties as a roadie and live the rock n' roll lifestyle soon reveals feelings of inadequacy that he has felt toward's his brother Matt for many years.  There are some poignant moments in the last act of the documentary as Tom bunks down in Matt and his wife's (Carin Besser, who appeared to have been one of the film's alternate camera persons, when Tom wasn't holding the camera) home in Brooklyn after the tour to piece together the documentary. It's in the editing of the documentary, which I imagined was kind of like therapy for Tom, that Tom Berninger has created a work of subtle beauty. In a rare moment at the end of the documentary, Matt picks up the camera and sneaks up on Tom while he is working on editing the film to check on his progress, and Tom responds with a sense of optimism and determination that really hits home, "I'm getting close. Just let me figure it out, ok."

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