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~ mawako
dir. Jonathan Caouette / USA 2003 / 88’
subtitles: Polish


Renee Leblanc, Jonathan Caouette, Adolph Davis, Rosemary Davis, David Sanin Paz, Joshua Williams, Michael Cox, David Leblanc


British Film Institute Awards 2004 – the most original and imaginative film of the year, Boston Society of Film Critics Awards 2004 – best new filmmaker, San Diego Film Critics Society Awards 2004 – best documentary, Los Angeles IFP/West FF 2004 – best documentary, National Society of Film Critics Awards 2005 – best non-fiction film, Milan Lesbian and Gay IFF 2005 – best film

Film description

There is no film like Tarnation and never will be. It’s not about the genre, there are plenty of documentaries spliced of old home movies, showing the truth about a family. Caouette’s film is of that category, but the footage at his disposal, his persona, and individual approach to his autobiography stands apart from other filmmakers.

Caouette is an artist and it seems has been since early boyhood. The film includes powerful scenes showing him in his teens, attempting to turn trauma into art through his improvisations of fictitious characters. Caouette’s modus operandi is ‘art saves from the abyss.’

The cinematic language he uses is a band apart, one that ostentatiously disdains sentimentalism while presenting the traumatic trials of his family. Laconic subtitle commentary supplants narration for a wonderful effect even if forced by financial constraints. It takes nothing from the film’s emotional charge, with some sentences cutting like a knife.

Tarnation is devastating, terrifying, but also hopeful as testimonial to trauma and its exorcism. As Caouette transcends from character to director, he is saved.

Michał Chaciński

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