"We All Are Captains…" reads the headline at the top of Andrew Schenker's entry at his Cine File today, followed by "…in the exciting world of film criticism, but some are more so, thanks to the weight of institutional authority. Such is the case with one of the most embarrassing movie reviews I've ever read, David DeWitt's inane take on Oliver Laxe's You All Are Captains for the New York Times, which, among its other sins, seems not to understand the work in question one jot." Others, evidently, would second that reading.
Andrew Schenker's own review appears in Slant: "Laxe goes full-on meta by casting himself in the role of a visiting moviemaker who travels to Morocco to shoot footage with disadvantaged children living in a shelter. Arrogant, unresponsive to the needs of the kids, 'Oliver' neglects his educational mission in favor of using the children for his own somewhat mysterious cinematic ends…. [T]he film's dual attitude toward the cinematic art, potentially a tool of empowerment for these underprivileged children as well as a means of exploitation, creates a more complex dynamic, one more meaningfully explored in the movie's second act in which 'Oliver' is dismissed from the project for his insensitive attitude…. In that later section of the film, the children are taken out of the city for a countryside jaunt in which they're given the chance to find their own stories" and "the spontaneous play of the children pushes You All Are Captains beyond easy reflexivity and into the stuff of lived existences directly captured."
"Shot mostly in romantic, neorealist-reminiscent black-and-white (a single color montage only confuses Laxe's intentions further), this docu-drama spends its first half deliberately complicating Laxe's presence both in front of the camera and behind it, parceling out just enough information to make distinctions between truth, fiction, staging, and documentation both impossible and meaningless," writes Karina Longworth in the Voice. "When onscreen Laxe loses control of the film-within-the-film, off-screen Laxe's voice is subsumed into dreamily beautiful footage following a 'script' laid out earlier by the kids. Or so it seems — by that point, we've seen enough of Laxe's brilliantly constructed deconstruction of 'truth' versus 'fiction' to know to question the authorship of every frame."
"By the time the titular statement is spoken," writes David Fear in Time Out New York, "you feel that any concept of cinema as a liberating force has been overtaken by endless fun-house exercises over reality versus representation. We’ve been here before; you may now yell 'Cut!,' print it and call the concept a wrap."
"Though predictable," writes Miriam Bale in the L, "the film's poignant moments are worthwhile for arising from issues infrequently addressed so directly in ethnographies. For instance, the children swarm in with their cameras on a group of white tourists walking through their streets, and a German couple comments that they should ask permission before invading with their cameras, suggesting of course an opposite question that goes unasked…. The Parisian-born Spaniard Laxe describes himself as a neo-colonialist filmmaker, but means a Colonial Guilt filmmaker. While the transparency of this privileged do-gooder's role as outsider observer and narrative imposer is admirable, admission does not automatically give him a pass."
At Anthology Film Archives for one week. Last November, Max Goldberg emphasized Laxe's sense of humor in Captains here in the Notebook.
Update, 10/20: "The story poses a simple question — how to make a movie that has both the symbolic grandeur of big pop entertainment and the personal importance of family pictures — and the film itself offers some heuristic, tentative, yet remarkably reverberant answers," finds the New Yorker's Richard Brody.
Update, 10/21: Craig Hubert talks with Laxe for Interview.