'Tarnation' is a rough cinematic journey

By D'Anne Witkowski

When it comes down to it, everyone could probably make a documentary about his or her relationship with their mother. But few people start documenting their lives on film at age 11 like Jonathan Caouette, the creator of "Tarnation," and few people have as much gripping material to work with.

"Tarnation" chronicles Caouette's life with his mother, Renee, and her long struggle with mental illness. The film depicts a childhood filled with abuse and neglect as well as Caouette's struggle as a young gay man and his eventual coming out. Using a combination of home movies, pop culture images, photographs, answering machine messages, and early short films, "Tarnation" is as captivating as it is difficult to watch.

Made using iMovie on his boyfriend's computer for less than $220, "Tarnation" made its debut at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and was hailed as "the new face of documentary." The critical buzz about this film is loud and growing louder, and it can't hurt to have Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell as executive producers.

Make no mistake, "Tarnation" is unlike any film you've seen before. There is no linear plot to speak of, the narrative is loose and not always clear. It's a chaotic, raw, complicated, and very painful chronicle of a very difficult relationship between two people, and ultimately the gray area between personal triumph and failure. "Tarnation" is a film that makes us more human, even when that's sometimes the last thing we want to be.


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