Thursday, May 03, 2012

Tchoupitoulas is easier to watch than pronounce

Tchoupitoulas tells the story of nine-year-old William and his two teenaged brothers from the portion of New Orleans on the west side of the Mississippi River called Algiers who take a short ferry ride across to the famous part of town and become immersed in the French Quarter for what turns out to be a very long night.

The sights and sounds are vivid as the boys and their dog Buttercup negotiate the streets and encounter some of the colourful characters that are hard to avoid in The Big Easy. I spent five days in New Orleans in November, which helped make so much of Tchoupitoulas seem familiar to me and added to my enjoyment of the film.

A theme of seeing the city and embracing it with child-like wonderment runs through much of the film, which has a pretty loose narrative owing to directors Bill and Turner Ross spending eight months and shooting hundreds of hours of footage in New Orleans before stumbling upon the boys and electing to make them their focus.

Aside from the city itself, William is the star of the show and there are brief and sometimes touching interludes in the film taken up by his amusing and unscripted monologues. And while the story arc of Tchoupitoulas (named after a major New Orleans street) is supposed to be limited to one night, a few continuity issues had me questioning its legitimacy.

The Ross brothers (who have potential as an acerbic comedy duo if they ever decide to leave the film business) fessed up in a post-screening interview that while about 80 per cent of the material featuring the boys in the film were shot on the initial evening, they got together twice more after that and used a few of those scenes. Other shots could have been taken at any point during the brothers' stay in the crescent city.

There's nothing groundbreaking about Tchoupitoulas, but it should be an enjoyable film for anyone thinking of visiting New Orleans or interested in rekindling memories of time spent there in the past.

Tchoupitoulas premiered at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas in March and will be shown again at Hot Docs at 10 p.m. on May 5 at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3.

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