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New Orleans has received its fair share of love letters, especially since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Spike Lee’s excellent When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts set the bar for celebrating the Crescent City’s history, culture and scarred beauty, followed closely by David Simon’s HBO series “Treme.” Tchoupitoulas deserves to be held in the same esteemed company.
Made by brothers Bill and Turner Ross, this lyrical documentary follows three teenage brothers as they essentially come of age during a single night in the city. At least that’s the general gist. More dreamscape than straight narrative, Tchoupitoulas was actually filmed over the course of nine months to capture all of the pageantry and peculiarities that make New Orleans special.
The decision to experience the city through the eyes of three adolescent boys makes this film more than just your average sightseeing tour. The camera catches all matter of late-night action, including a drag show, parade and, this being New Orleans, several different music performances. Those scenes are interspersed by the wide-eyed ruminations of William, the youngest of the three adventurous brothers. He discusses young love and personal dreams and religion. He’s the type of talker and thinker begging for ridicule from his older brothers, and he receives it, but he elevates a beautiful-looking film into one that’s also poignant.
“This is everything I hoped for,” William says early in the “night.” “The naked pictures, the clubs. You guys know what I’m talking about?”
The Ross brothers deserve just as much credit for how they portray a city that, if it weren’t so vibrant and threatened, you may have grown tired of by now. In Tchoupitoulas, the blemishes receive as much attention as the glitter and beads, and the focus is on sections of nightlife that many have missed. In one scene, we watch from the wings of the stage as burlesque performer Perle Noire, wearing just a G-string and pasties, dances, flips and splits for a raucous audience that we can only hear. The camera follows her throughout the athletic performance, then stays with her backstage as she catches her breath and puts on her robe—then a few minutes longer as she adjusts the robe and watches the next act. That sort of patience and appreciation of detail become the lasting impressions of this film—and perhaps a lesson for how we should view the city itself.
Tchoupitoulas screens at the Wilma Sun., Feb. 17, at 1:45 PM.