FraudReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/22/17 09:18:11
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL 19: I am reasonably certain that “Fraud” is not a documentary, despite several film festivals labeling it as such and the lack of credits identifying the cast and crew at the end; it simply commits to its found-footage conceit more completely than is typical. It’s convincing even for those who know otherwise, and that may be an issue for some; it’s convincingly amateurish enough to not be a smooth watch and for the “subjects’” bad acts to come off as repellent rather than generic. Get past that, though, and it’s on point.It’s presented as a collection of home movies from a North Carolina family with two young kids, a young mother, and a father who likes to film them. He mostly seems to do it on Sundays when the tapes start in May of 2012 with a number of jittery segments that often focus on trips to the mall or other prosaic matters. It’s not long before the viewer starts to notice overdue bills piling up. By late July, mother Paige is learning about filing an insurance claim, and soon after that, you’ve really got to question the wisdom of the father filming this stuff as they give themselves reason to do so.
That, of course, is an obvious plot issue with a lot of found-footage films, and there’s a certain non-intuitive realism to the way that director Dean Fleischer-Camp doesn’t bother to explain it. Sure, folks might shoot themselves committing a crime - it’s probably the most exciting, thrilling thing they’ve ever done - but monologuing about why is a step too far. Besides, the compulsive way the father shoots, right down to the way shots will linger on his wife’s well-maintained body, can be all the explanation needed: Pulling out the camcorder is something he does on his day off, to the point where the rest of the family has likely learned to ignore it, and that’s before you even get to the question of whether they think they’re doing anything wrong.
Compulsive behavior of other sorts is at the center of Fraud; Fleischer-Camp pointedly makes no effort to show that the financial hole this healthy and cheerful lot are in is the result of some random misfortune. Instead, he shows them as simply living beyond their means, using small examples at first but not taking very long before the irresponsible spending becomes obvious. In some ways, the pattern is simple and obvious, but there is a bit of interesting nuance to it: Paige doesn’t present as particularly stupid, for example, and the whole film is about the execution of a plan that requires some foresight, but while that plan serves as a way to hit a reset switch, it’s immediately clear that she and her husband have no plans to change their behavior. The lines that the filmmakers choose not to include or emphasize are also important; while there are probably many situations where their “accident” could be played as ridding themselves of a burden that would drain their finances, it instead plays as cashing in something meant to be permanent in order to pay for momentary pleasures and disposable goods (a late scene involves waiting in line for the then-new iPhone 5, and there’s probably no more grotesque display of rampant consumerism than new-release day at the Apple Store).
Fleischer-Camp and his crew don’t take a lot take a long time ramping this up, getting to the point quickly and moving things along at a quick but not staccato pace. At 52 minutes long, Fraud sits in a weird no-man’s-land between shorts and features, and while something in this area is probably the right length for it - much shorter and the filmmakers would have to push things at the viewer rather than doling moments out, much longer and they would need extraneous subplots (as it is, that the family is in New York City when Sandy made landfall seems less like something that fits the narrative than something that otherwise would have left a big hole in their timeline) - it can still be a tough sit. Though probably better than actual home movies in terms of cinematography and sound design, those few viewers who see it in a theater at a festival will get a lesson in sitting a few rows farther back than normal for found footage, and the commitment to showing this sort of consumerism for what it is can make even this short time in these people’s company seem too long.It is, perhaps, a movie best first discovered on-line, where it’s seeming authenticity might make it a bit more exciting. On the other hand, it shouldn’t stay there; for all that its unusually well-executed found footage gimmick creates the ring of truth, "Fraud" is worth unpacking as a narrative work. It’s got something to say and plenty of skill in saying it.
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