Sunday, May 15, 2011


Jeff Malmberg, 2010 (8.3*)
Marwencol is a documentary about the fantasy world of Mark Hogancamp. After leaving his local bar one night, Mark is beaten into a brain-damaging coma by five teenagers outside in the parking log. After coming out of his coma, he is on Medicaid and "the money runs out", so they tell him he is released, and is sent home with only partial brain functions. He has to relearn how to walk, eat, write, and think, with the help of his mother and friends. (He's divorced and was living alone)

In order for some spiritual as well as physical therapy, to help his shaking hands, Mark thinks he needs a hobby, so he builds a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard, which he dubs Marwencol.  Mark populates the with hobby dolls representing his friends and family and creates life-like photographs detailing the town's many relationships and dramas. Setting up scenarios like a miniature movie set, to illustrate an ongoing story (see photo at bottom), and then photographing the action helps Mark to recover coordination heal his psyche - he's still afraid of the outside world, now it represents possible danger. He only goes to work one day a week at a local restaurant-bar, and doesn't drink since the attack.

The town has American, British, and German troops all using it as a sort of neutral-zone r-and-r. There are also some blonde babes there, because Mark's ex-wife was a blonde of Eastern European descent. Mark has his own character, and there are five SS 'bad guys' that bother everyone and threaten the town. The conflicts in his psyche are played out in all the good soldiers in Marwencol trying to avoid the threatening SS. At one point, the women join the resistance and take up arms as well. There's even a character representing General George Patton. (see jeep photo below)

When Mark and his photographs are discovered, a prestigious New York gallery sets up an art show as Mark's creation is deemed art, forcing him to choose between the safety of his fantasy life in Marwencol, and keeping it private, and the real world that he's avoided since the attack, and sharing his own created world.

You won't see many stories this odd and this interesting, especially in documentaries. The biography of Crumb, about the underground comic artist, comes to mind, as well as American Splendor, a docudrama about another comic artist, that blends animation with real action, and includes the real people in the film alongside their life actor counterparts, with whom they sometimes converse, and sometimes comment about to the director.

15 awards out of 17 nominations

See more at

Mark Hogancamp setting up a scene in
Marwencol before photographing it


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Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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