' Cinema Romantico: CIFF Review: Tchoupitoulas

Friday, October 26, 2012

CIFF Review: Tchoupitoulas

Often when I fall asleep and slip into a dream I realize later on that I can’t recall the dream’s beginning. More so, I can’t quite recall the thread of the dream. I can only recall fragments, bits and pieces, sporadic but nevertheless indelible images. It’s those images of our most potent dreams that remain long after waking up.


“Tchoupitoulas” is ostensibly a documentary but provokes a sensation much more akin to a dramatic film. That said, it’s not truly dramatic. There is not much in the way of a storyline. There are no grand heights for our characters to scale. It’s almost entirely imagery and atmosphere. It may not hook you instantly. By my count four people walked out early of the screening I attended. Heck, I confess it did not hook ME instantly. But that’s because “Tchoupitoulas” is a dream state. It’s all about fragments, bits and pieces, sporadic but nevertheless indelible images.

Three brothers – and their dog – in New Orleans take a ferry across the water to the heart of the Crescent City, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. There is music, dancing, fire-eating, and more music. The kids stand back and just take it all in. Occasionally the camera even breaks from the kids and wanders off on its own. Occasionally the film cuts to a Malick-y voiceover from the youngest of the boys. This is essentially the whole deal. Yes, the boys fail to make the ferry going back and, thus, are left on their own in the big city all night, but there is never a palpable sense of danger or suspense – at least, not traditionally.

The film’s most marvelous sequence involves them sneaking aboard a decrepit riverboat and prowling through its corridors. Even here, though, the sensation is less “What’s around that corner?” and more that upon crossing the gangplank they have mystically entered old world New Orleans. When they stand below an illuminated chandelier standing out amidst the grave darkness, it’s as convincing a portrait of time travel as “Looper.”

To grapple for its meaning is to grasp at straws. At the end the youngest boy, in the morning light, after being awake all night, makes mention of finally getting to go to sleep. No doubt when he awakes it will all feel like a dream.

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