SXSW 2010 Review: MARWENCOL
This review was written by contributor Lauren Lester.
Director: Jeff Malmberg
We all have places to escape to. Us movie bloggers have films, sports fanatics have fantasy football, and so on. By retreating into these fantasy worlds, we're able to transplace the worries of every day life into a place where they don't even exist. The (recently announced) award winning documentary MARWENCOL is about a man, Mark Hogencamp, who has taken his fantasy world and transformed it into a work of art. But when Mark's world is discovered by an art magazine and he is offered to display his fictional world to the real one, Mark faces a serious decision that could potentially unravel his precious world.
Yet, Mark's fictional town (dubbed "Marwencol") did not come easily or organically. One night, Mark was brutally attacked outside of a bar by a group of five individuals. Mark was beaten so badly that he required facial reconstructive surgery, suffered brain damage and was forced to stay in the hospital for 40 days to recover. This attack was so brutal, violent, and damaging that Mark lost most of memories prior to the attack and literally had to go back and relearn everything, including reading, writing and just being able to hold a pen.
Mark slowly and steadily started to recover, but after his insurance ran out he was forced to leave the hospital and stop his recovery therapy. Although he was well enough to go on, Mark was stuck having to create his own form of therapy, thus the world of Marwencol was born.
MARWENCOL follows Mark as he tells the creation of his World War II inspired town that is 1/6th to scale. In Marwencol, anything goes and the only rule of the town is that everyone gets along. Mark creates his own storyline with himself as the hero and is the only man in a town of 27 barbies. Also in Marwencol, German, British and American soldiers all get along and one of his girlfriends is a Belgian witch who can travel through time--it is truly a magical place.
Yet Marwencol reflects Mark's deep anger and distrust of the world after his attack. He mentions that he is constantly fearful of someone jumping him again and this is reflected in his world, only this time, he is rescued. Mark's apparent loneliness and fear in a world where attacks such as his are possible is heartbreaking and it is clear that he just wants to be loved by the world that cannot give him love in return.
Before his vicious attack, Mark was a talented artist and though he can no longer remember how to use his former skills, his artistry is still there and possibly better than before. It is painfully clear how much care and perfection he wants for his town, so he creates his town with a sharp eye for detail. With this, Mark is discovered one day by a local photographer and Marwencol is changed forever when he suggests that Mark display his town as of work of art in New York City. Mark struggles with the idea of revealing his little world to the public, but his decision ultimately changes Mark for the better and gives him the confidence he desperately needed for himself.
What makes this film special is the relationship between Mark and director Jeff Malmberg. It is evident that Malmberg deeply cares about Mark and wants to tell his extraordinary story, not using his tragic accident to sell seats. This care for the subject and relationship between Jeff and Mark is a rare and special one that translates on the screen. There are many twists and turns in the film that you don't see coming, but because the relationship between Mark and Jeff was there, it makes the film even more intimate and fascinating
MARWENCOL is a deeply moving film that deserves to be seen for the art alone. And what truly makes this film beautiful is that Mark does not see it as a work of art, it his world-- and more importantly-- his therapy. Not only has Marwencol helped Mark control his anger and regain his motor skills, but is also has allowed him to display his fantastic talents. As the film displayed some of Mark's photographs of the town, I couldn't help but find myself completely moved. These photographs are amazingly realistic and Mark's attention to the most minute detail of his world takes them to another level. This documentary is a truly beautiful work of art, not only in the town of Marwencol, but in Mark's story as well.
If you'd like to see more of Mark's work, please visit the MARWENCOL official site.