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SXSW 2012 Review: TCHOUPITOULAS

Drew Tinnin

by:
March 13th, 2012

There's a difference between simply visiting New Orleans and becoming fully immersed in the city - if you do it right, you've probably fallen in love with New Orleans and can't wait to get back. There's a timeless, tangible sense of history throughout the city, glad to take you by the hand and show you the sites, leaving it to you to decide how deep down the rabbit hole you want to go. The sense of culture and the many musicians still playing nightly are still very much on display and they don't look to be going anywhere anytime soon.

But what if you grew up there? Can you imagine walking down Bourbon street as a kid? Unable to experience the full potential of the city, the sights and sounds alone would be hypnotic, if not a little frightening. But you'd keep your cool, right? Bill and Turner Ross show what it would be like if you wandered the nightlife underage in their new documentary TCHOUPITOULAS - a coming-of-age tale focused around three brothers that wind up having a night that could define them as individuals as they move forward in life.

Beginning in the families home, we're invited to dinner with the whole family, but we really only see them through the eyes of the youngest brother as he deals with his two slightly older brothers endlessly poking and prodding him, a daily routine that anyone who grew up with a big brother is probably all too familiar with. TCHOUPITOULAS is told through the wide-eyed perspective of the youngest, littered with voice overs of over-the-top fantasies as he dreams of a more extravagant life. These moments are peppered throughout the film, fading in and out of neon-lit vignettes and racy burlesque.

As all three rush to catch the train to go back home, the littlest trips and the gate closes. They are trapped in the Crescent City for the night, looking to creep back into the unknown, and certainly not looking forward to the whipping they'll probably get from their parents the next morning. Once they are forced to explore the underbelly of New Orleans, the city truly opens up to them, offering late night jazz in smoky dungeons and a peek at what might be their first naked woman in a dazzling striptease sequence.

When the morning finally comes, the three have bonded and are more playful and understanding with each other, a clear change from how they behaved with one another during the film's opening scenes. This was a defining moment for them - a night that may be the first stop on their journey into adulthood, offering them hope for the future and a new sense of adventure. That moment might have come to each of them at a different time, otherwise, and the fact that it happened when they were all together looks to impact their relationship in a profound way. There's a new found respect for each other that wasn't acknowledged before.

Is TCHOUPITOULAS a love letter to New Orleans? Is it simply a document of one night in the city? It could be all those things, but most importantly, it's a sometimes magical descent into the nightlife of a city where you might wind up growing up a little faster than you actually wanted.  When the train leaves the station, you still better catch it, no matter how fast it might be moving.

Grade: B

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