With the explosion of social media and the mainstreaming of virtual relationships, it was inevitable — and maybe even necessary — that someone was going to try and document (in fiction or non-) what that explosion’s actually like and how it affects us as human beings. Which brings us to Catfish.

Explaining the title means giving away the plot, more or less, and that’s impossible to do without ruining the suspense of seeing it. In brief, when professional photographer Yaniv receives a painting based on one of his photographs in the mail from young prodigy Abby, he feels compelled to seek her out, despite the fact she lives halfway across the country. It’s a process made all the easier by the new technologies designed to do just that: bridge distances and bring us together.

On the face of it, then, inventions like Facebook and YouTube and the like are good things, fostering greater communication between individuals and putting away once and for all barriers like geography that have historically separated cultures. It sounds like a good idea, taken to its logical conclusion. They’re tools for allowing us to get know each other better (sort of, anyway) by sharing more and more with each other, breaking down old social barriers. In theory.

On the other side of the coin, the use of virtual communication provides a barrier of its own, one that may be even more pernicious, adding suspicion to every new “friend” — are they a real person or just some cunning (or not-so-cunning) simulacrum?

As the months of communicating and receiving paintings from Abby wear on, Yaniv finds himself more and more drawn into her life, becoming friends with her mother Angela, learning about the family problems and arguments like he was just a friendly next-door neighbor. He even goes so far as to develop a relationship with Abby’s older sister, singer-songwriter Megan, despite the fact that they have never met.

This all proves too much to resist for Yaniv’s brother and studio-mate Ariel, a young filmmaker in his own right, and soon Ariel and his partner Henry are documenting every moment of Yaniv’s relationship, leading up to the group eventually travelling to Michigan in person to meet the amazing Abby and her family.

More than that can’t be said, beyond the fact that Catfish will have you glued to your seat for every minute of its running time, particularly its last 30 minutes. It reminds you constantly that the documentary, at its best, exposes us to the real drama that makes up human life.

Catfish is a perfect example of that — maybe too perfect. There’s no evidence to the contrary, but like Yaniv himself, we the audience are separated from the events by the barrier of the silver screen, and there’s no telling what’s real and what’s not. If it’s real, it’s affecting on a profoundly human level, and if it’s not, it’s awful clever. We may never know, but either way, the point is worth making.

Catfish may be the first film to truly explore the reality of interpersonal relationships in the Information Age and whether or not that term itself is being made obsolete by the tools enabling it. There’s a certain amount of exploitation going on in the process — which may be unavoidable in anything dealing with the Internet — but there’s a great deal of trust, as well, whether it’s real or not. Check it out.

Yaniv Schulman as himself
Ariel Schulman as himself
Henry Joost as himself
Angela Pierce as herself
Abby Pierce as herself

BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, October 13th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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