Oliver Laxe turns in a noble, though plodding and confused first effort with You All Are Captains. In his attempt to create an introspective look at making a film with non-filmmakers, he takes viewers down the rabbit hole of self-reflexivity. Unfortunately, instead of landing in Wonderland, we end up face to face with a film not unlike Frankenstein’s monster: a creature made with grand intentions but whose beautiful pieces, when combined, create a shoddy patchwork that ultimately does not function as intended.
Laxe based this film, which is a mixture of documentary and fiction, off of his own experiences. Originally from Paris, he moved to Tangier in 2007 and created a workshop at a shelter for impoverished children where he taught them how to make films. You All Are Captains opens by introducing us to a group of rambunctious boys, who we soon learn will be assisting Laxe in creating a film. He allows the boys to run rampant with his equipment and we get several chaotic scenes of them goofing off and looking confused at Laxe’s requests. As time goes on, Laxe’s project begins to derail. Two other workers at the shelter are unimpressed with Laxe’s treatment of the boys, and believe he is taking advantage of their situation for the sake of his film. They decide to take the boys to the countryside where they can regain control and find their own stories to tell with Laxe out of the picture.
Laxe’s love for his subjects shows through, but he allows his lens to linger on their activities too often. The repetitive images of mischievous children at play become grating. Rather than highlighting the innocent and uninhibited way they view their surroundings, after a time, I simply found these scenes annoying and prayed for Laxe to get on with it. All in all, this film just feels messy and has little to no cohesion between its scenes. There is a point in the film where one of his students explains his confusion regarding Laxe’s methods: “He says he’s directing a film, but I don’t see a film, I only see scenes”. I couldn’t agree more. Although You All Are Captains starts out promising, Laxe seems to lose track of his subject, showing us images and interludes that seem misplaced or worse, useless, and ultimately leaves us with a project that feels half baked.
That being said, You All Are Captains does have some positive merits. The film, which is shot almost entirely in black and white, contains some very beautiful imagery, particularly of the Moroccan countryside and busy streets. The audience is also gifted with several stunning close ups of the children’s faces. Laxe’s attention to them makes it clear that they fascinate him. Laxe also briefly touches on the ethics of his filmmaking. He addresses the implications of an outsider swooping in to film foreign children. Indeed, one of the most important scenes, where the two shelter workers complain about his project, focuses on this. This is brought up in more than one instance, such as when the young boys film some European tourists. One of the tourists notes “…if I don’t agree, they can’t film me”. It brings up the question of power dynamics and consent. One would think that these tourists would have no issue snapping pictures of the city and its inhabitants, just like Laxe, however, when the tables are turned, they are visibly uncomfortable.
You All Are Captains manages some interesting insights into filmmaking and moments of beauty. Unfortunately, its composite parts never quite add up, and too often it feels directionless, which, I believe, ultimately lessens the impact of Laxe’s experiment. This being said, I believe Laxe shows promise and I would be interested to see more from him in the future as he matures as a filmmaker.
You All Are Captains runs at the Pacific Cinematheque March 5, 7 and 8.