Jeff Malmberg’s unique documentary Marwencol is a strangely touching work—that very carefully sidesteps the pitfall of exploiting its subject. “Marwencol” is the name of a fictional town in Belgium created by Mark Hogancamp as a creative and therapeutic outlet after an attack outside a bar in his upstate New York town left him brain-damaged. It’s also quite literally a state of mind. It’s Hogancamp’s idealized—almost utopian—dream of a WWII where everybody—natives, Germans, British, Americans—follow the rules of the town and make themselves get along. Such violence as occurs is, in his own words, created for entertainment purposes only. (This does not, however, prevent outbursts of sometimes quite disturbing violence when lines are crossed—which happens depending on his frame of mind.) It’s Hogancamp’s world—people with dolls and action-figures representing friends playing the various roles—reduced to 1/6 scale. Malmberg’s approach to shoot these tableaux as if they were staged scenes from a nonexistent movie (that maybe does exist in Hogancamp’s mind) is remarkably effective—as is the drama that occurs when his fantasy world is suddenly seen as art, something that threatens to thrust him uncomfortably back into the real world. A rich and compelling little documentary.
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