Hunter reviews: Catfish (2010)

4Oct

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Releasing Catfish the same weekend as David Fincher's Facebook creation myth, The Social Network, is probably no coincidence, as I'm sure these two films would make a stellar double feature.  Catfish is a documentary that begins examining a relationship a man has with a family of people he meets on Facebook, and the peeling away of the personas they project as he digs deeper into who they really are once the cracks are exposed.  It's about how sites like Facebook (and the internet in general) have changed the politics of personal relationships, and the way we can get lost in the identities we create for ourselves online.  Catfish is a movie that is best enjoyed going in knowing as little as possible, I'm going to keep the plot description as thin as possible, however if you plan to see this, stop right here and see the film (which you should do anyway), then come back and read this.  If you don't care, read on.

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The documentary focuses on a guy named Yaniv Schulman, a photographer living in New York with two filmmakers, Henry Joost, and Yaniv's brother, Ariel (both of whom made this film).  Yaniv begins receiving paintings interpreting his work as a photographer from a child prodigy in Michigan named Abby.  Yaniv becomes connected with Abby's family through Facebook, getting to know Abby's mother Angela, her brother Alex, her father Vince, and most of all, her lovely older sister Megan, who is also a singer-songwriter.  Megan and  Yaniv quickly form a long-distance internet relationship via Faceboook and phone calls.  Yaniv sends her photographs and Photoshop creations, while Megan sends him recordings of her covering songs, as well as original ones she puts together, just for him.  But as you might have guessed, this isn't a documentary that's about the formation of a lasting relationship online, it's about what happens when the validity of Megan's online identity gets called into question, causing the filmmakers to investigate who Yaniv has really been speaking to this whole time.

Catfish probably takes some liberties with the true story all for the sake of drama and suspense, but it is nonetheless a compelling tale of identity and relationships as filtered through the internet.  I've always been interested in the subject of the internet and how it's changed our relationships with each other, yet most movies that tackle that subject only touch on the more interesting elements, or ignore them altogether.  Facebook and MySpace (which seems to be going the way of Friendster in recent years) are places where we can project ideas of ourselves, often we try to represent some idea of how we perceive ourselves, or how we would like to perceive ourselves.  We pick pictures that make us look as cool and attractive as possible to represent us on our profiles, sometimes we don't even use pictures of ourselves at all, sometimes we intentionally misrepresent who we are, and some people take that further than others.  The YouTube aesthetic the filmmakers bring make this movie seem like it takes place entirely online, like something best experienced on the internet itself.  The changes the internet has brought to culture as a whole are rarely addressed in cinema, so seeing these filmmakers address it directly, and in a seemingly non-fiction setting makes this one of the most engaging and interesting films to tackle the subject so far.

-H

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