Friday, January 20, 2017

The Modern Jungle (2016) Slamdance 2017

Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak's THE MODERN JUNGLE will give you great pause about every other similar documentary that you see afterward.

A very meta, very straightforward portrait of people in the Zoque culture in the "Black Jungle" section of southern Mexico the film is very aware of the pretend walls between filmmaker and subjects and subjects and the audience. Its so aware of them that the walls are pretty much destroyed at the outset a fact which kind of has us going back on our heels from the first moments all the way to the post credit sequence that ends the film.

The film is nominally the story of Carmen who lives in a home paid for by her deceased husband and Juan, a medicine man with a hernia and an interest  getting involved in a pyramid like business to sell diet supplements. We watch as our subjects go through their lives and rituals and try to just live their lives...

...but the film is also very up front with the fact that the filmmakers are paying the people in the film for their time. Yes we are seeing their lives but they are being paid for their time. Its an up front revelation that makes you wonder about all the other documentaries you you see.Who is getting paid and who isn't? The up front nature of the film forces you to ponder is this really their lives or what they were simply paid to do? It a question that takes on large implications with the opening and closing pieces which have the pair in a theater watching the film we are seeing and commenting on it.

I'm still pondering what it all means.

And I'm also still pondering what I think of the film.

As an intellectual exercise I really like the film. I like how the film deconstructs itself and other similar films. Emotionally I'm not too sure. The problem is that on a certain level it's exactly like all the other similar films. Its far from bad but without the meta level it wouldn't stand out.

Reservations aside THE MODERN JUNGLE is recommended.

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