‘The Wolf­pack’

The true story of shut-off sib­lings saved by movies. And one another.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - KEN­NETH TU­RAN FILM CRITIC ken­neth.tu­ran@latimes.com

“The Wolf­pack” is very much the doc­u­men­tary of the mo­ment, show­ered with all kinds of media at­ten­tion. And no won­der.

Win­ner of Sun­dance’s Grand Jury Prize, it tells a story ir­re­sistible to our age of ram­pant voyeurism and re­al­ity TV, yet it also has a po­tent emo­tional core that can­not be de­nied. Even in the con­text of Tol­stoy’s fa­mous dic­tum that ev­ery un­happy fam­ily is un­happy in its own way, the story of the An­gulo broth­ers stands out.

It’s been nearly five years since film­maker Crys­tal Moselle first en­coun­tered the six strik­ing-look­ing teenage sib­lings, their long straight hair in per­pet­ual pony­tails, on the streets of New York’s East Vil­lage. She chased them down, struck up a con­ver­sa­tion and slowly got to know them and their sit­u­a­tion in the course of record­ing hun­dreds of hours of in­ter­views and con­ver­sa­tions.

As it turned out, the broth­ers were es­pe­cially keen to talk to Moselle be­cause she was a di­rec­tor. Huge movie buffs, they had ac­cess to a fam­ily film li­brary of some­thing like 5,000 ti­tles. In fact, the ar­gu­ment could be made that movies were es­sen­tial in sav­ing their lives.

For the broth­ers, their de­vel­op­men­tally chal­lenged sis­ter and their mother, Su­sanne, lived in a public hous­ing apart­ment on the Lower East Side un­der the dom­i­neer­ing thumb of fa­ther and hus­band Os­car, who had for­bid­den them from go­ing out of the apart­ment by them­selves. Some­times, one of the broth­ers says, an en­tire year would go by with­out the sib­lings (home schooled by their mother) leav­ing the rooms they lived in.

Un­der those con­di­tions, it was not sur­pris­ing that the broth­ers, all given San­skrit names by their Hare Kr­ishna par­ents and not clearly iden­ti­fied in the film, in­vested so much of their time and in­ter­est in the movies, in ef­fect their only ac­cess to the world. “If I didn’t have movies, life would be pretty bor­ing, there wouldn’t be any point to go on,” one brother says. Another adds, “It makes me feel like I’m liv­ing, sort of, be­cause it’s kind of mag­i­cal a bit.”

The An­gu­los were hardly pas­sive con­sumers of media. Fans of vi­o­lent f ilms like “Reser­voir Dogs,” “Pulp Fic­tion” and “The Dark Knight,” they used their con­sid­er­able free time to type word-for-word scripts of their fa­vorites, then act out the dra­mas in their apart­ment, us­ing re­al­is­tic guns and cos­tumes made from castoff ma­te­ri­als.

Though it is not im­me­di­ately clear as “The Wolf­pack” un­folds, film­maker Moselle had en­coun­tered the sib­lings a lit­tle more than a year af­ter Mukunda, not the old­est but clearly the leader, had be­come the first to go out­side on his own. The fact that he wore a mask like Michael My­ers in “Hal­loween” fright­ened lo­cal shop­keep­ers, po­lice were called and the con­fine­ment sys­tem be­gan to break down.

Moselle had ac­cess to a trove of An­gulo fam­ily home movies (and has added some Man­hat­tan street footage of her own), but the heart of the film re­mains her in­ti­mate in­ter­views, the kind you can only get if you put in the time.

One of “The Wolf­pack’s” most poignant voices be­longs to mother Su­sanne, an Amer­i­can woman from the Mid­west who met Peru­vian Os­car on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. They shared val­ues, she says, in­clud­ing a dis­trust of ma­te­ri­al­ism, and she ap­pre­ci­ated that he was “some­body who sees things in a dif­fer­ent way,” though just how dif­fer­ent was some­thing she did not an­tic­i­pate.

Moselle fi­nally speaks to fa­ther Os­car as well and hears his side of the story, his jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for act­ing the way he did, de­liv­ered at a time when the power dy­namic in the fam­ily is chang­ing and the broth­ers are as­sert­ing their in­de­pen­dence.

Although no one would rec­om­mend the child­hood ex­pe­ri­ence the An­gu­los en­dured, one of the story’s fas­ci­nat­ing as­pects is how thought­ful and ar­tic­u­late the broth­ers have turned out, though a few of them have in­evitably in­her­ited their fa­ther’s un­easi­ness with the out­side world.

“The Wolf­pack” by its na­ture in­vites con­jec­ture about what it was ex­actly that saved these young men. Yes, their love of movies played a ma­jor part, but the hu­man fac­tor is also key. Sev­eral of the broth­ers credit Su­sanne (“It’s be­cause of our mother, she kept our san­ity,” says one), and in a sense they saved them­selves. The sib­ling bond on dis­play is re­mark­able, and it has served them well.

Pho­tog raphs from Mag­no­lia Pic­tures

SIB­LINGS, from left, Krsna An­gulo (now Ed­die), Ja­gadisa An­gulo (now Glenn) and Mukunda An­gulo.

MAKUNDA AN­GULO and his sib­lings re-cre­ated their fa­vorite movies, mak­ing cos­tumes from castoffs.

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