Originally published Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Movie review

Boys' energy lights up 'You Are All Captains'

A movie review of French director Oliver Laxe's "You Are All Captains," which blurs the line between fact and fiction almost to the point of invisibility as he plays a director making a movie about boys from the streets of Tangier.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'You Are All Captains,' with Oliver Laxe. Written and directed by Laxe. 79 minutes. Not rated. In Arabic, French and Spanish, with English subtitles. Northwest Film Forum, through Wednesday.

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Boys are being boys in "You Are All Captains." Residents of a home for troubled street kids in Tangier, these particular boys are rambunctious, anarchic. Pounding on their desks at school in a wild percussive scene early in the picture, they're practically youths in a state of nature, overflowing with boundless energy.

A young filmmaker named Oliver is fascinated by these kids and seeks to channel their unruly life force into a film.

The line between reality and fiction is artfully twisted and blurred to the point of invisibility by "Captains" director Oliver Laxe. A Frenchman, Laxe plays a version of himself in the picture, and the kids on screen are all boys from Tangiers' streets.

The kids are captivated by the filmmaker's equipment and the process of moviemaking but quickly become suspicious of Oliver's motives and frustrated by his methods.

They perceive no form to his picture. He seems to be shooting scenes at random. He keeps changing their roles. "He doesn't explain anything," a kid complains. "He's taking us for fools," declares another.

"A film needs a story," a kid says. Anarchy, it seems, yearns for structure.

"Captains" does indeed seem formless at first, a meandering assemblage of scenes. But those scenes have an undeniable cumulative power, and eventually a narrative thread of sorts reveals itself. The kids are onto something in their questioning of the director's power to manipulate images and to perhaps exploit the kids in the process of creating those images. What, they want to know, is this outsider really up to?

Laxe filmed "Captains" in a black-and-white that is almost luminous, and the sound design is remarkable. The gabble of kids' voices, the sharp chirps of birds, the sibilances of the wind coursing through a wheat field in a section where the boys are taken on a trip to the country, are all deployed to create a kind of tone poem that slowly but surely casts a spell over the viewer.

Soren Andersen:

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