|movie review | May/June 2016
(Re)building his world:
Jeff Malmberg's Marwencol
by Anita Casey-Reed
In early 2000, Mark Hogancamp was about as close to death as humanly possible. Attacked in a bar parking lot, he was beaten unconscious by five young men who pummeled him mercilessly. For the next nine days Hogancamp was in a coma, his face unrecognizable. Then he awoke.
How does someone go forward after such trauma? This is the subject of Jeff Malmberg's docu-mentary "Marwencol", which follows Mark Hogancamp over the course of four years and re-counts how he slowly regained his physical and emotional health through creating art, and found a new life for himself in the process.
Hogancamp left the hospital after a month and a half of therapy, still struggling with basic tasks such as buttoning his shirts, and returned to his trailer in upstate New York. He had no memories of his first 38 years -- his ex-wife, his time in the military, his friends and family. All that was left were photographs and stories other people told him. He found his journals, and discovered that the old Mark was a desperately angry alcoholic who could draw sketches with power and grace. The new Mark could hardly hold a pen without fumbling.
So he turned to other ways of expressing himself, taking some old dolls and his imagination to begin the creation of Marwencol, a fictional Belgian village during WWII. Here he made himself the hero, a tough Yank separated from his unit. His friends became assorted US and British troops, his kind boss at the restaurant one of the local ladies. Hogancamp spent his spare time obsessively creating, with improving dexterity, more and more elaborate buildings in his back-yard. His cast of characters included the DA who prosecuted his attackers, the nice woman who lived across the way, and (of course) a brief appearance by General Patton. Hogancamp began to take photos of his town, playing out scenarios of courage and cowardice, love and betrayal, as five Nazis arrived in town and captured his character. This time, though, as the attack played out, the people of the town were able to save Mark after he was beaten, defeat the bad guys, and nurse the hero back to health.
The amazing thing about documentaries is how the twists and turns of real-life are stranger than anything a screenwriter could devise. I don't want to give too much away, but one of the great things about the film is how we come to know Hogancamp and care about him as we see him work to regain control of his life and come back, in some ways, even healthier than before he was attacked. His art brings him into a whole new sphere of experience that no one could have imagined. It's an amazing story, and it has to be seen to be believed.
"Marwencol" is not rated, but due to language and content, this is one for adults or older adoles-cents.
Anita Casey-Reed is a member of the Cinema 100 Film Society, a volunteer for the Dakota Digital Film Festival and co-host of "Reel Retro" on Dakota Media Access. She lives in Bismarck with her husband and two children.