SIFF: Mistaken for Strangers
Mistaken for Strangers was meant to be a film following the National’s worldwide tour in support of the release of their critically acclaimed 5th record Boxer, but in the making it departed from that original intent to be a charming story about brotherhood. Told from the perspective of National singer Matt Berninger’s younger brother Tom who tags along on the tour as a part-time roadie and full-time jester with his sight’s set on living the rock and roll lifestyle, the mundane reality of capturing that lifestyle to film quickly sets in and his fun-loving hijinks instead begin to encroach on his real responsibilities and his own credibility as a documentarian. Though the younger brother is a joyful and often hilarious presence on the tour, and as much as character in his own video sequences as the band, nobody appears to much appreciate his humor as long as it’s getting in the way of the simple official tasks assigned to him: keeping the green room stocked and generally being a personal assistant to the band.
Instead of a document of a live band at the peak of their powers with generous passages of live footage and a general feeling of cool, brief live stage scenes offer interludes to the saga of the Berninger brothers trying to figure each other out, clashing and laughing as brothers do. Conversations about too much drinking, about what Tom is doing wrong, what he needs to do differently, and his lack of focus, it all feels slightly uncomfortable. But that it’s done with the blunt caring of an older brother who obviously really does care and delivered to a person with minimal capacity for shame, the litany of poor choices and mistakes only serves to make the situation endearing and increasingly funny. Tom absolutely seems like a fun guy to have as a brother, so long as he’s not your brother.
Coming from a family of brothers myself, echoes of my own experiences in the scenes between the Berninger’s were what really made this film a winner to my mind. The unfiltered and sometimes biting banter that cuts deeply without regard for offense is a hallmark of brothers, and one that I’m all to familiar with. Talking face to face without any pretensions or judgement is such a rare thing even among close friends, and I wonder whether blood brotherhood might be one of the last bastions of brutal honesty. Mistaken for Strangers serves as a reminder for how valuable of a thing that kind of honesty really is, no matter how embarrassing or frustrating it may sometimes seem.
Mistaken for Strangers plays again tonight for SIFF at the Egyptian Theater 4pm.