In a Dream

"Excellent"

In a Dream Review


Visual artist Isaiah Zagar lives on the delicate border between joy and insanity. The mosaic master of Philadelphia, now in his late 60s, offers a dose of philosophy with calm insight -- and then his words begin to twist away and practically disintegrate. When we meet Isaiah in son Jeremiah Zagar's finely tuned documentary In a Dream, he's asked if he wants a drink of water. After a pause, he declines and says he'll have a boiled egg instead. Huh? Is this the kind of typical brain activity living in a brilliant artist?

Well, an obsessive artist for sure, and the younger Zagar makes that clear from the get-go, introducing his dad's work with a glorious tracking shot showing off Philadelphia buildings Isaiah has covered with his larger-than-life pop-art mosaics. Isaiah stands quietly as Jeremiah's camera smoothly pulls away from him, leaving the elder Zagar dwarfed by his work, as we contemplate the overwhelming, countless hours such work demands.

That particular style is one element that sets In a Dream apart from other famous-father documentaries (Nathaniel Kahn's My Architect and Celia Maysles' Wild Blue Yonder come to mind). Jeremiah Zagar is a slick, literate filmmaker, embracing a visual language as much as his dad might. Combining thoughtful motion with rapid, click-clack editing, Zagar's work feels like a cool big-budget TV commercial crossed with the chaos of Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation.

But there's a lot more here than just style. At the center is the inimitable Zagar, an aging man with an abusive past and who tangles with depression, and a life-affirming relationship with wife Julia. Their decades-long marriage is the narrative hub of the film -- they meet, bring their sons into the world, and dedicate their lives to art and each other. But Isaiah has an ugly secret, and son Jeremiah is Johnny-on-the-spot to capture the revelation, as well as the painful situation leading up to it.

According to press notes, Jeremiah spent roughly 16 hours shooting that particular day, and hated himself "for every minute of it." His camera watches as his eccentric family's structure begins to splinter, and we're left feeling as unsure as the Zagars must have felt. Surrounding them in their home is Isaiah's meticulous work, an appropriately multi-layered collection of smashed glass and ceramic, a jagged jigsaw puzzle. Organized, reflective, broken.

Just when we think we might understand Isaiah Zagar -- his troubles are shared by many out there, certainly -- the ex-hippie spurts out something outlandish. When he describes the relationship he has with his own excrement, it's time to pack up reality and acknowledge this is a pained man who may not have full control of his own sanity.

Like any incisive documentary filmmaker, Jeremiah is able to record the difficult and extract the unexpected. It's a skill tougher than it seems, and keeps both audience and subjects on their toes. During an early interview, Isaiah blurts out information about a suicide attempt from roughly 40 years earlier. When his son gently digs deeper, dad admits he didn't expect such a grave fact would appear so early in the process.

Zagar's strong approach is coupled with that zinger of a visual style (including original animation, by the way), and some spooky music by a pair of innovative guys called The Books. The whole thing is an artistic celebration of sorts -- with the emotional pain that can come with dedication, and maybe a little madness.



In a Dream

Facts and Figures

Run time: 80 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 8th March 2008

Distributed by: International Film Circuit

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Jeremiah Zagar

Producer: Jeremy Yaches

Starring: Isaiah Zagar as Himself, Julia Zagar as Herself

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