You All Are Captains

Early on in You All Are Captains, director Oliver Laxe—playing a version of "himself," a Spaniard teaching a filmmaking workshop to disadvantaged school kids in Morocco—delivers a lecture on the refractive properties of a camera lens. It's crucial, he tells his pupils, that they understand that the camera distorts what it captures, ultimately presenting a mirror image. The kids, listening via a translator, clearly don't understand at all—not how the lens works, and not that endless reflexivity is Laxe's M.O. 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. Laxe, a brooding longhair distinctly out of place in Tangiers, insists to a program supervisor that the students are engaged in telling their own stories; the kids complain to their other teachers that they're being forced to play roles in Laxe's grand experiment. Neither side seems to represent empirical truth—and that's the point. 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.

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