Directors: Bill Ross and Turner Ross
A lyrical nonfiction offering that could be viewed as a sort of companion piece to “Beasts of the Southern Wild” by way of Frederick Wiseman, Bill and Turner Ross’ “Tchoupitoulas” charts the journey of three young African-American brothers who head out onto the streets of New Orleans to experience the Big Easy’s kaleidoscopic vibrancy. At once gorgeous and frustrating, alluring and tedious, the delicate movie is an undeniable example that, like physical beauty, the appeal of diffident, removed cinematic art is in the eye of the beholder.
Unfolding over the course of one night, “Tchoupitoulas” centers on William, Bryan and Kentrell Zanders, a trio of brothers who we first glimpse, pants slung low, bickering at home, in a manner familiar to all. Taking their dog out for a walk in the French quarter, the boys ruminate about Michael Jackson, hot dogs, heaven and their futures, drifting past strip clubs, bars and street proselytizers. After they miss a ferry back home, they knock about some more, exploring the night.
In its own malingering way, the film occasionally illuminates the magical thinking of adolescence (“I would be the first person to get my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for flying,” says the youngest Zanders). But movies similar in tone and thematic exploration, like David Gordon Green’s “George Washington” and Dutch filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich’s “Position Among the Stars,” all have cleaner through lines, stronger emotional engagement and more of a sense of honed purpose.
This fact mitigates the success of the Ross brothers’ otherwise impressively objective lens, which captures the relaxed rhythms of fraternal jockeying. The mode in which “Tchoupitoulas” unfolds is solid, even if — when the boys end up on an ornate, abandoned ship that gives the film’s last 12-15 minutes the feel of a special maritime episode of “Ghost Hunters” — it turns overly dark, and reliant on over-the-shoulder tracking. Still, excepting its for the most part superlative technical rendering, “Tchoupitoulas” feels like a cinematic exercise grasping blindly for reason and statement — a beautifully crafted paragraph in search of a topic sentence.
NOTE: For more information on the movie, visit http://rossbros.net/tchoupitoulas.html.
Written by: Brent Simon