MARWENCOL is a mesmerizing and enchanting documentary about on man’s attempt to use art as a therapeutic means. But it’s also one of the most beguiling stories I’ve seen in years. So if you’re up for something unusual and out of the ordinary then I can’t recommend it enough.
First off, I highly suggest you watch the TRAILER to completely understand what I’m about to explain to you, because this is definitely one of the times when a picture is worth a thousand words.
In 2000, Mark Hogancamp was brutally attacked outside a bar by five teens. The beating was so severe that when he woke up out of a nine-day coma he had lost most, if not all, of his previous memories. In his 30s, he had to learn many of the most basic skills all over again.
When the money for his therapy dried up after a woefully short period of time, he found an unusual, yet extraordinary way to continue his physical and mental healing. He created a sixth-scale village in his backyard to house an intricate and meticulous world for his highly detailed 12” action figures (mostly military soldiers).
Called Marwencol, the fictional WWII-era Belgium town frequently sees visitors from Allied and Axis soldiers, but fighting is strictly prohibited. It is also here where Mark’s doppelganger resides. The 12” Mark runs the local bar and has a rich life that includes a series of women (Barbies) that vie for his love.
This would be interesting enough, but what brings this to an entire other level is that Mark has taken more than a thousand photographs that document the complex Marwencol storyline. Not considering himself an artist, the photos are surprisingly top-quality. So much so that they attract the eye of a photographer who encourages Mark to display them in an art show.
The documentary is well made and captivating, truly drawing you into Mark’s world, but it’s bizarre and he’s got some odd quirks that get stranger as the tale progresses. What’s most interesting is that as much as MARWENCOL is about Mark’s catharsis, it’s also about the nature of art itself.