dark        

London Film Festival Review: Catfish

0

Star Nev Schulman and director Henry Joost appeared for a Q&A session at the end of the London Film Festival Catfish screening. For once I had my camera with me. Determined to get a decent shot, I was adjusting the focus and trying to find the right lighting settings when it dawned on me that two questions had passed and all I had seen of Schulman and Joost was through the camera screen. And the shots came out badly anyway.

In a roundabout way, therein lies one of my major problems with the idea of online social networking and one of the film's most engaging themes. No matter how much the details are refined, all that can ever be known through a screen is an imprecise simulacrum of a real person. In those few minutes I was watching them through a camera, Schulman and Joost had been turned into a representation first and a person second. After putting the camera away, the warmth between the pair as they engaged with the audience and each other was startling. I could see them on the screen and hear their every word, but watching through a camera drained them of the human qualities...

Star Nev Schulman and director Henry Joost appeared for a Q&A session at the end of the London Film Festival Catfish screening. For once I had my camera with me. Determined to get a decent shot, I was adjusting the focus and trying to find the right lighting settings when it dawned on me that two questions had passed and all I had seen of Schulman and Joost was through the camera screen. And the shots came out badly anyway.

In a roundabout way, therein lies one of my major problems with the idea of online social networking and one of the film's most engaging themes. No matter how much the details are refined, all that can ever be known through a screen is an imprecise simulacrum of a real person. In those few minutes I was watching them through a camera, Schulman and Joost had been turned into a representation first and a person second. After putting the camera away, the warmth between the pair as they engaged with the audience and each other was startling. I could see them on the screen and hear their every word, but watching through a camera drained them of the human qualities which cannot be captured in image or descriptive details alone. Social networking encourages people to see themselves and others as a set of vague status descriptions, filling in the gaps with what it suits them for other people to be, rather than who they actually are. Making 'friends' in this form seems to me to encourage the transformation of individuals into narcissistic distortions of one's own desire.

Schulman and Joost revealed in response to an audience question how much of their lives were spent watching life through a screen prior to accidentally being thrown into the extraordinary story that became Catfish. As a photographer and filmmaker respectively, their professions required them to capture moments in isolation through technology. Even in their spare time, Schulman said that he carried a camera with him at all times and filmed anything even vaguely interesting going on around him. When setting the camera on Nev Schulman's budding online 'relationship' with Abby, an eight-year-old who had painted one of his photographs and sent it to him, the original intention was to make a short film about two artists inspiring each other and potentially culminating in a meeting. Things turned out rather differently.

Schulman is presented as a charming and easy-going fellow, but supernaturally naïve. The signs for what was about to happen were clear from the outset and will be to most viewers as well, but his willingness to accept the words offered to him suggest that he too filled in the gaps by reading into these people what he wanted to find rather than seeing what was really there. This is not to suggest he's a fool or that anyone wouldn't have reacted in the same way, but that this seems to be the way that social networking, for all its conveniences, is altering the nature of human relationships, if you can even call them that. This is never clearer than as we watch Nev fall in love from afar with Abby's older sister Megan, a nineteen-year-old singer from a working class family who has just bought a horse farm. Questions are only raised once there is clear evidence that the details he is offered may not be what they seem. Even then it takes a long time before Nev is willing to break his fantasy and find out the answers to his doubts.

In the interests of preserving the sanctity of a film whose success relies almost entirely on its twist and subsequent denouement, I'm going to avoid giving away anything that happens much beyond the first act. As tempting as it is to find out everything about a film before putting your money down for a ticket, this is one time when knowing a lot about the film will actually make for a less valuable experience. All you really need to know is that Catfish is an engrossing story speaking very much for the nature of its time - if ever a film is to be considered emblematic of the follies of the Information Age, this will be hard to beat – and driven by a charismatic lead in Nev, who tackles the situation with a mixture of understandable bafflement and infectious good humour. Not enough has been said of how frequently hilarious the film is: the scene where Nev reads out the sexy texts he and Megan have exchanged, becoming progressively more aware of how cheesy they are, draws the kinds of gut-laughs that most dedicated comedies could only dream of.

The film is let down by the fact that it never springs any true surprises: its authenticity, shot almost entirely with a handheld camera, is what keeps it going, but since this is a true story it unfolds more or less as you would expect without the kind of reversals that scripted dramas use to upturn audience expectations. What it does offer is a perfect encapsulation of modern technology's dehumanising of relationships. While people may not be such perfect fits for our fantasies as their online profiles, it's in the intimate details and depths of those real lives, where technology can only leave gaps, that the strongest connections are made and new facets of our own lives are revealed.

You are logged out. Login | Sign up

 
 

 

Catfish reviewed by Xander Markham

7.5

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
How we score:  The Flixist reviews guide

 
 
 

TwitterRedditEmailFacebook
 
Xander Markham
Xander MarkhamAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Living just outside London, I represent Flixist’s entire UK branch. My film obsession manifested itself during a childhood spent watching Bond movies, Italian Westerns and all things samurai. I... more + disclosures


 


 


Also on Flixist: Catfish   (0)   From our database:

  • More related stories
    Filed under... #Festival Films #Flixist UK #London Film Festival #Reviews

    READER COMMENTS LOADING BELOW...


    LET'S KEEP THE COMMUNITY GREAT


    You're not expected to always agree, but do please keep cool and never make it personal. Report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community team. Also, on the right side of a comment you can flag nasty comments anonymously (we ban users dishing bad karma). For everything else, contact us!



     
     
  •