Thursday, January 14, 2010

Movie Review: In a Dream

In a Dream ***
Directed By:
Jeremiah Zagar.

There have been a lot of documentaries in the past few years that focus on one person’s family. A family member with a movie camera documents the trials and tribulations that his family is going through at the time, the movie gets into a few film festivals, a limited theatrical release and then straight to DVD where no one ever picks it up again. The whole thing reminds of that episode of The Simpsons when Lisa goes to Sundance. While In a Dream follows that same formula, it is more fascinating than most of those documentaries. For one, director Jeremiah Zagar seems to have a natural eye for moviemaking, but more importantly, his family is actually interesting enough to sustain a documentary that people other than his family would want to what.

Jeremiah’s father is Isaiah Zagar, who for the past four decades has been covers his Philadelphia neighborhood with his huge mosaic murals – over 50,000 square feet of mosaics have been done (apparently, the city of Philadelphia allows him to do this, although the movie never really explains it). He pours his life into his art – which is very personal – and centers around his family. He has had a history of mental problems, including a suicide attempt years ago, but doing his art seems to keep him grounded and sane. His wife, Julia, helps in this regard as well, as does his two sons – Zeke and Jeremiah.

The first act of the movie seems to find Isaiah and Julia in happy times. They have made it through more than 40 years together, they have two sons – one is married and has a song of his own and is making a success for himself in real estate, and the other went off to college and is now making this documentary.

But then things fall apart. Zeke, who they was happy married and successful, gets divorced and moves back in with his parents. Worse, he is “self medicating”, and will probably need help at some point to get over his addiction. Isaiah’s mosaics seem to start changing as well. Usually focusing on his family, and his wife who he adores, they seem to have turned inward and are becoming more and more about himself and his troubled psyche. When Zeke finally asks for help with his addiction, and wants to be driven to a rehab centre, Isaiah blurts out that he has been having an affair with his assistant. Things immediately get much worse.

When I watch documentaries like this, I often wonder if the process of making the film made things better or worse. Does having the camera there make people more honest than they otherwise would be, or do they feel like puppets being used by the documentarian – in this case a member of their own family. In this case, it seems to be the former. This family does not seem to hold back much, and you get the impression that without the camera there, perhaps they would not be talking about these things at all. At least with the camera, things are being said.

In a Dream is not a great documentary, but it is a good one. It finds interesting subjects to document, and the film is about more than just a family in crisis. It is about the line between art and reality, sanity and insanity, and how art can save or destroy you – as can a marriage. In short, In a Dream is better than most documentaries about a family, because it is about more than just the family. A lot more.

1 comment:

  1. In A Dream didn't exactly follow the straight-to-dvd formula. It aired on HBO.