Tuesday, July 2, 2013

NXNE 2013 Film Review - Mistaken For Strangers

Tom Berninger has a history of under achieving and not completing what he starts.  He also happens to be the younger brother of Matt Berninger lead signer of the band The National that after 10 years of struggle has finally achieved critical and popular success. The band is about to embark on a major U.S and European tour.  Matt invites his younger brother Tom to come along and be part of the tour crew so Tom decides to chronicle the proceedings on video.

Tom's appearance on tour has repercussions for everyone associated with the band.  The Band Manager has concerns with what he is filming.  The dynamic is also complicated that the other 4 members of the band are also two sets of brothers. Tour Manager Brandon Reid lays out clearly to
Tom his duties for the tour, his task is to make sure that band has every thing they need in and around the time they hit the stage. One last note, Tom has some issues with alcohol as well.

The film is more about the relationship between brothers with a nine year age difference than the day to day events of the tour. In the one on one interviews Tom constantly asks the other band members about Matt and their relationships with Matt and how they view Matt's relationship with him. He also reverts to his past nature, which causes a strain on his relationship with his brother and band management. The tension is increased as although he is a member of the crew in name he is the brother of the front man of the band.

Shot mostly with handheld camera Berninger catches the behind the scene elements of the road along with the energy of the band on stage. His focuses in on the nuance of the band during their live performances including the trance like state that his brother Matt develops on stage. Berninger himself did the cinematography for the piece.  The film has a great look especially when the band is on stage.  The lighting of the band in blue and red hues is haunting particularly during ballads. The presentation also switches between shots from the side of the stage focusing on the closest band member, to centre stage shots trained on Matt's singing. The effect gives the audience the feel that they are right in the crowd notably when the camera follows Matt as goes on one of frequent his walkabouts through the crowd. The fast cuts of the band members and the crowd in the concert scenes accompanied by the lighting effect fills the viewer's senses. Berninger even manages to capture Barack Obama for the Documentary as The National were invited to participate at a campaign stop in Madison, Wisconsin. However he was not able to meet with the President as he did not have the proper security clearance.

Tom's return home to Cincinnati from the tour and interaction with his parents is a key part of the documentary.  He interviews his mother and father on camera asking them to reflect on both boys.  They both describe Matt as an overachiever, an athlete; serious and driven while the inability to complete anything comes up again for Tom. His mother, an artist points out a picture he did as a youth that is still hanging in her studio. She remarks that he was more artistic but he needs to complete something as he always quits things.

The editing process proved to be the greatest challenge for Berninger. He marks each episode of the documentary in colour coded sticky notes which raises some concerns as he could not explain his system or the eventual order of the scenes to anyone who asked. This confusion followed a disastrous screening sends Tom hurtling towards a complete breakdown.

Mistaken for Stranger is a crisp documentary of a band on tour with the relationship between two brothers at the centre. The concert scenes are beautifully shot and give the viewer the impression that they are front row centre at a concert for The National. The energy of the band above all that of the lead singer leap off the screen. As a contrast to the star singer of a band on the rise you have his younger brother as a director who despite the apprehension of the group and the ups and downs of his mental state finally completes a project that will be a great benefit to the band and help to bring them to an even higher level. This is a film that I can highly recommend.

**** out of 4.

Mistaken for Strangers | Tom Berninger | U.S.A. | 2013 | 75 Minutes.

2013 NXNE Film Festival.

Tags: Indie Rock, Brothers, Sibling Rivalry, touring, Concert , U.S President Barack Obama, Overachieve, Underachieve.

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