Friday, 20 June 2014


His camera like an extension of himself, Tom Berninger applies his knack (not that anyone knew he had one) for drawing out the worst in others to a new-found knack (not that he knew he had it) for filmmaking. Crucially, he also draws out the worst in himself, and arranges the footage into a rich and funny hybrid of rock documentary and family portrait. Using a variety of techniques to evince this wide range of emotions present in his relationship with his brother Matt, the frontman of popular indie rock band The National, and also with his film's other subjects, what's surprising above all is the consistency of the finished product. It's evident in every short scene, though, the candour that Berninger seeks in his film, which extends to a candour in the artifices he creates for the film - staged moments whose corniness is so distinctly at odds with the rest of the film, or even the very process of making a film. In the apparent insignificance of much of what Berninger captures on his camera and in the self-sufficient loop the film seems to be in (screening old scenes as part of the film, chronicling its own editing process, like a 'making of' within the film being made), Mistaken for Strangers takes the form of a revision of what a film is, or what one can be. Its honesty does not relent, does not fail to permeate any fraction of the film, to the effect that it seems completely aware of its status and its purpose, even as it is in production. Berninger's camera seems to point back at itself, as well as the petulant, passive-aggressive, irresponsible, supercilious, pretentious, aloof, nasty, childish people in the frame. As a rock-doc, it's only of moderate value. As a bizarre family portrait, it's exceptional.