Saturday, April 23, 2011

MARWENCOL (Jeff Malmberg, 2010, USA)

After a brutal assault, one man’s posttraumatic stress disorder reduces his world to one-sixth scale where life can be easily manipulated. Marwencol is a combination of names from Mark’s damaged fantasy world, where women dominate his internal narrative. Mark created this plastic reality after suffering severe brain damage from a aggravated assault. His past hidden behind closed neurons and shattered synapses, he had to learn to live all over again and somehow come to terms with his victimization: Marwencol is that process.

Director Jeff Malmberg doesn’t aggrandize his subject, doesn’t focus upon the criminals and their convictions (we never do learn their fate) but instead allows his subject to talk and reveal his inner war: his hate, fear, anger, and desires which play out in his model town. Though Malmberg touches upon the problems concerning the sterile and cold predicament of Mark’s health insurance, this isn’t a polemic about healthcare or the criminal justice system.

Mark has a fantastic imagination and uses his artistic ability to design and detail each figure and building, and his experiences are echoed by the dolls who share his life. This is excellent therapy but it soon becomes obvious that it dominates his life, every thinking moment and has become an end to his means. Mark can clearly tell reality from this fantasy but he lives in 1/6 scale more often than he can in the big scary world. It is terribly sad to see Mark watch old videos of a forgotten life with no memory of those events. He sees his past in a series of snapshots without context, without identity. It is interesting that he now photographs his faux world, experiencing his stories is a series of still photos. To Mark’s credit he doesn’t sink into self-pity or loathing, and his charming smile becomes disarmingly hopeful. He is self-sufficient and able to interact with others though he prefers the company of dolls, characters he can control by dressing them and acting in his stories. This is the place where he feels safe and can exact his revenge on the five punks who haunt this world as SS Officers…and meet their bloody fate at the molded hands of his femme fatales.

The final act of this fascinating documentary finds Mark’s photographs at an art gallery in NYC and Malmberg documents this struggle from the little town to the Big Apple. Mark has created this world for himself and it’s difficult to explain to strangers. When one patron chuckles and says they should go see some “real” war photographs Mark’s friend becomes furious for good reason: this IS Mark’s real war.

Final Grade: (B+)

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