[review] Mistaken For Strangers

The trailer of Mistaken for Stranger had been up online a few months ago, and since then I had been waiting for the final release of the documentary. Critics were put forward claiming that the movie, directed by Tom Berninger about the indie rock band The National (official page) as one of the best music documentary of the recent years. Verdict follows.

I could get my hands on it yesterday, just a few days after its official release. The whole movie, that doesn’t go over an hour and a half, surprises in many sense.

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Tom Berninger (left), director of Mistaken For Strangers, and Matt Berninger (right), lead singer of The National

You could first expect the focus to be on the band itself (that would have been boring) like many music documentaries. But no, the director Tom Berninger tells a story not so much about The National in itself, but his own history and relationship with his brother Matt Berninger, lead singer of the band.

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Each one doing their job, Matt being a rockstar, Tom being part of the band support crew

Everything starts when he invites his brother to join his band on a tour as an assistant for the live event. Tom, an individualistic person by nature, do not confine himself to his role consisting of making sure that each member goes to pee and has enough food in their stomach. He comes up with the idea of a documentary about the band on tour. Much more than a documentary though, it is an touching movie about his relationship with his brother, The National acting as a sort of setting for their story.

It is touching, and gives much more than the simple band. It has also all his lot of what you want to expect from a music documentary: live scenes, some history about the members, tour buses, crowds, crowd surfing, … just name it.

The humanised portrayal of the band is what hooks the viewers, seeing every member getting pissed and having their own problems, despite being part of what any musician would love to be a part of.

The filming is also great. Many of the shots are decorative and full of humour, making the whole movie full of puns and interesting insights. We can see Matt doing things that he would never had done if the man behind the camera wasn’t his little brother.

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Brothers hangin’ out

Almost all the scenes are filmed with a hand-camera,making the whole thing look as if it was the director’s own family videotapes, and that we were invited to look into his and his family’s personal life. And that’s actually exactly what it is about, a honest, and humorous familial story.

One moment of the movie that stroke me was when the band manager is concerned about the image that the band will have in Tom’s documentary. It’s true, the band is not pictured as symbols, untouchable figures of the distant realms of fantasy; it goes beyond that. They are pictured as humans, and that’s why Mistaken For Strangers stays in the mind and is a must-see in its own category.

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