***1/2 out of ****
There was a moment as the credits rolled at the end of Crystal Moselle’s documentary debut when everyone in the audience collectively breathed in, grateful for something we never gave much thought to before: each other. We’d just spent eighty minutes as the inaugural guests of a family isolated from society. The Angulo family, consisting of seven children, a complacent mother and a tyrannical father, have entrenched themselves in their apartment in New York’s lower East side, counting the number of times they go out on two hands. One generous year, we learn, it was nine. Another year it was zero.
Moselle follows the teenagers on some of their early trips to “the outside,” which, for safety’s sake, they embark on together, comparing literally everything they see to one of the five thousand movies they own. They speak about movies with reverence; film is their portal to the outside.
The mysteries of the Angulos exceed the time Moselle has to illuminate them, but their emotional journey is documented with honesty and even beauty. Claustrophobic hallways are revisited in real home videos, revealing the evolution of each family member. Everyone is allowed their turn to share, to confess, to defend their choices; Moselle’s voice is the quietest, wisely opting to listen rather than editorialize. A deep sense of trust pervades her interactions with the seven youth.
The journey she finally captures is more familiar than you might expect. It is a story of fear, and choosing to face the unknown. Shielding oneself only leads to more fear, but facing it is empowering. At one point Susanne, the mother, calls her own mother for the first time in fifty years. After all those years she can barely remember why she stopped calling in the first place, but her triumph at the end of their conversation is infectious. There was nothing to be scared of after all.