Mistaken for Strangers

Mistaken for Strangers ★★★★

I'm not really into indie rock music. I'm not even sure I ever heard a song by the American indie rock band The National, except for their chill cover version of A Song of Ice and Fire's The Rains of Castamere. Anyhow, it isn't really necessary to know who The National is regarding this very fine documentary called Mistaken for Strangers. Even if you know who The National is and you don't really like them, it doesn't really matter as well. This documentary works on many different levels and offers some very honest filmmaking, even if you could be a bit sceptical about the staging at some points. I for one was quite delighted in the end and felt moved. This is more than a seemingly chaotic rock doc. This is portrait of some very different people.

In this case, portrait is a key word. Tom Berninger, brother of The National's lead singer and song writer Matt Berninger is what many people would call a loser. He never really achieved anything, despite the fact that he has a rather talented gift for drawing. Tom is invited by his brother to join The National on a World Tour, to Europe and back again to the USA, which Tom thinks is pretty awesome. So he grabs a camera and documents, records and films every moment of this tour for doing a rock documentary of his brother's band. You know, Tom always was into movies...

The result is an utterly interesting, often amazing and unbelievable story of two brothers, a study of characters which feels very close to life and quite genuine. On the one side, we become familiar with Tom and his personality. He's a tragic figure: insecure, messy, unorganized, aimless. This documentary means something very special to him, but he struggles to find a place for himself, always in the shadow of his famous brother. Tom is a naive but kind-hearted fellow, and just as you laugh about his attitude and his behaviour, there's also a high chance that you'll be very touched by his character.

On the other side stands The National, that band which went like a train in the past few years. Every member feels more or less uncomfortable around Tom, because Tom has no structure, no order. Even his own brother will show his nasty face from time to time, but we shouldn't forget that he's under a lot of pressure as well. Tom is simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong stuff, but he doesn't see it.

Besides Tom's fascinating personality, it's really interesting to get insight into the mechanism and dynamics of a band, especially of a band on tour. There's something demystifying about Mistaken for Strangers: as much as you're startled by the band's on-stage performance, you're also very intrigued by all the things which happen backstage and around the musicians, their characters and kinks.

You might get the impression that many things in Mistaken for Strangers could be staged, but there is an honesty about this film, an honesty that is brought to you by the filmmaker himself, Tom Berninger. Of course, this documentary was planned, but honestly, I don't think they anticipated an outcome like this. It's like I said a very open and genuine portrait of a man, his brother and a band.

Eventually, Mistaken for Strangers has a very beautiful and powerful ending. It's like it is, brothers do and will always love each other, even if there'll be many lows for them to go through. In the end, I felt very happy for Tom and what he has achieved. His special character and the frank and unlocked depiction of all the people around him got to me. It's a very amusing but also sad little film. But it leaves you with a good feeling.

(And keep your eyes peeled for people like John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Will Arnett and... well, that Obama guy.)