Tchoupitoulas: BAMcinemaFest Review

Two filmmaking brothers turn their cameras on a trio of siblings in an enjoyable, colorful tour through New Orleans nightlife.

Bill and Turner Ross' film follows three African-American brothers navigating one night of New Orleans' nightlife.

NEW YORK — A quietly marvelous travelogue condensing months' worth of observation into a single sleepless night, Bill and Turner Ross's Tchoupitoulas follows their widely praised 45365 and, by shifting focus from that film's small-town Ohio to this one's lore-stuffed New Orleans, increases its arthouse drawing power dramatically.

One all-night tour gives the film its structure: Three African-American brothers take the ferry from their residential New Orleans neighborhood into the heart of the tourist district, intent on getting as many cheap thrills as possible. When they miss the last ferry home, the boys wind up wandering the streets until dawn, battling fatigue and stumbling into small-stakes adventures the boozing tourists a few blocks away will never encounter.

William, the youngest of the three, is the pic's clear star -- a charming cut-up who talks about his Lamborghini dreams but is easily wowed by less expensive things: he exults over getting free strands of plastic beads as if they were real pearls. His older brothers are cooler but still unjaded, ambling slowly down Bourbon and other streets (with dog Buttercup in tow) and appreciating everything from sidewalk buskers to lurid strip-joint ads.

In a rare downbeat moment long after midnight, William says he's beginning to wonder if his siblings even tried to get a ride back home after missing the ferry. Viewers, too, may wonder how much of this tour is staged for our benefit. Clearly, no two-man team could have shot the film's many tangential, brothers-free scenes -- set in burlesque-show dressing rooms, at bustling oyster bars, on raucous dancefloors -- in a single night.

Indeed, this sidetrack footage was shot over nine months of all-night wandering. But producers swear the missed-ferry plot was unstaged, a happy accident occurring on one night during those nine months, and that most of what we see of the three boys is from that night. Their story makes a strong skeleton, lending an illusory real-time flow to the many colorful characters and atmospheric scenes captured through the rest of the production -- scenes shot and edited with impressive grace. It's hard to say whether Tchoupitoulas will inspire trips to New Orleans, or cause viewers to decide the city could never be as entrancing in person as it is here.

Production Company: Epic Match Media
Directors-Producers-Directors of photography-Editors: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross
Executive producers: Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn
No rating, 80 minutes.

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