Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Review - Catfish

With the tagline "Don't let anyone tell you what it is", Catfish has made itself the bane of many reviewers existence. Revealing what it isn't would in turn give too much away and so the middle ground seems to be letting the curious potential audience in on the bare essentials.

Those essentials being that filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost decide to document the blossoming relationship between Ariel's photographer brother Nev and the family of an 8 year old art protégé called Abby with contact being almost exclusively through Facebook.

With The Social Network seemingly taking all the plaudits for capturing the zeitgeist of the latter half of the decade, Catfish must be seen as the unnerving little brother. The sibling that has been ushered into the shadows and away from mainstream sensibilities and concerns. However, where Fincher and co failed was making any of their characters remotely likeable. Who cares for the trodden on friends when they all become millionaires anyway? Acting as an ambivalent document of the events that led to the most powerful social tool of our time but only looking at the repercussions for human relationships on a superficial level. The moment when Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) realises the missing piece of his puzzle is the "relationship status" information is treated comically - as if he were Archimedes stepping into a bath of baked beans.

in contrast shows the faces behind the profile pictures. The trio of filmmakers on their voyage of discovery make for an engaging watch as they become more involved with the young artist. Nev, in particular, makes for a charismatic and often amusing lead in the improvised movie of his life. His developing relationship with Abby's older sister purely via modern means of communication is an accepted and increasingly common sign of the times. The film expertly details the dichotomy of the internet's effect on our social lives. It documents the void of loneliness that technology has created in our wi-fi connected world. The growing distance between everyday human contact and anonymous online interactions with photos, likes, dislikes and status updates. However, Catfish demonstrates the ability of technology to connect not only with other people but emotions, imagination and fantasy. It is this confusion of masked interaction and intense emotional involvement that means that the internet has not just become a powerful social device but an equally powerful method of escapism.

In the age of the faux documentary, it is not unreasonable to have suspicions over the truthfulness of the story. It seems to fall neatly into place though that is what editing studios are for. Similarly accusations of a sleazy and condescending feel to the final cut of the film have been made. These words though overlook the fact that the filmmakers always act with grace, good humour and compassion throughout. A poignant human story for our emotionally detached social network.

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