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Film Festival review: Mistaken for Strangers

Jul 24, 2013 Film & TV

Mistaken for Strangers

Directed by Tom Berninger


Sibling rivalry: rock and roll is rife with it, from the onstage brawling of Ray and Dave Davies to Liam and Noel Gallagher’s seemingly never-ending squabbles. With not one, but two sets of brothers, The National should be fertile ground for some A-grade internecine strife. As portrayed in the idiosyncratic tour film Mistaken for Strangers, however, the five band members are all disappointingly well-adjusted sorts. Led Zeppelin in the seventies this is not.

It’s only when Tom Berninger, brother of frontman Matt, joins The National’s European tour as documentarian/roadie that things start getting fractious. A chronic underachiever whose previous directorial experience is limited to fooling around with a movie camera and some mates, Tom Berninger is almost as bad a movie-maker as he is a roadie. When he’s not getting a bollocking from the tour manager for forgetting the towels, he’s driving the band mad with his intrusive and inept filmmaking style.

Tom’s multi-faceted incompetence is frequently hilarious. But it’s also sad, because looking on with increasing exasperation is big brother Matt, the wry, self-assured lead singer for one of the planet’s most successful alternative rock acts. As the tour progresses and things go from bad to worse for Tom, his generic music documentary morphs into a highly personal exploration of success, failure and family dynamics.

Some questions still nag. If Tom’s so inexperienced, why does the concert footage look so good? Who’s behind the camera when the focus moves away from the band and towards Tom and his many screw-ups? And if, as suggested, the decision to insert his own story into the film was made late in the editing process, how come there was so much usable footage to hand?

So perhaps this sweet-natured film is a bit more cynical than it lets on; I can’t bring myself to care.  Entertaining throughout, Mistaken for Strangers’ conclusion is so uplifting that it had me fighting the urge to punch the air. Sort of like that bit in a National song when the horns come in.


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