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“Don’t let anyone tell you what it is,” warn the posters. They’re referring not so much to the title, which eventually gets explained but isn’t terribly meaningful, as to the film itself. Catfish is one of those movies—there’s usually one every year or so—that is best seen completely cold, by viewers who don’t know anything about it.

Of course, the poster itself gives away something about the movie, asking, “How well do you know your Facebook friends?” So I’m not giving anything away by saying that this is a documentary about a Facebook friendship that is not what it appears to be. It involves Nev Schulman, a 20-something Manhattan photographer who becomes friended by a young Michigan painter after she sees one of his photos.

My word processing program does not like that I just wrote “friended,” which it does not consider a word. My word processor obviously does not have a Facebook account and therefore would be mystified by this film. So might any of you who have remained immune to the lure of Facebook until now, though it will probably recruit as many new members as it will scare away. It’s a tool like any other: You have to be careful how you use it.

Without going into any more detail, I can say that Catfish is an involving and eventually rewarding movie about the need for human connections and the ways in which we find them in what is starting to become the post-physical era. Some reviewers have found themselves repelled by the filmmakers (who are Nev’s officemates and began recording this story early along). I disagree. I think that perceived callousness is a way of bringing the audience along so that they can turn the tables on them and open them up to a human encounter they might otherwise avoid.

It should be said that there are those who claim that the entire movie is a hoax, with no more evidence than that Nev is awfully good-looking and that the filmmakers captured so much important information. In the wake of I’m Still Here, I can understand some wariness about documentaries. Still, none of the internet arguments I’ve read “proving” that the film is a fake persuade me of anything other than that there are a lot of cynical people out there who would much rather believe that they are being lied to than that the truth is often sloppy and difficult. (A lot of them are in the Tea Party, but I digress.) I hope it’s not a fake. If it is, I hope no one can ever prove it.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Catfish

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