Many things can happen in ten minutes. The sun could set, a mare could give birth, or the weather could abruptly change. In the case of Nathan Caswell and Jeremiah Zagar’s film “The Unbelievable Truth,” forty-years of a man’s life are presented and it might leave you sick to your stomach. Winner of the Best Narrative Award at the 12th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival, Caswell and Zagar’s film begins with a disclaimer warning the viewer of impending graphic depictions of violence. This special note is soon forgotten as the viewer becomes fascinated with Samuel Pinkus’s life. “The Unbelievable Truth” latches onto segments of Samuel’s life and explores his photography obsession. The camera becomes an extension of him, going everywhere with him, even to the morgue where he identifies the body of his dead father.
On the surface, the film is just about a man and his hobby, but “The Unbelievable Truth” aims much farther and further than mere story. Caswell and Zagar examine in their film the power and nature of images—both moving and still. The film itself proves that ordering moving images in a certain fashion can provide a lot of information in a very short period of time. By incorporating still photos in the film, Caswell and Zagar draw attention to the beauty of a picture’s immortality.
When nineteen year-old Samuel (Michael S. Reich) looks at his dead father, you anticipate the flashing of the camera. Samuel doesn’t disappoint. He takes two pictures of his father’s bloodied face, and then sends you through an unexpected plunge into other people’s pain.
Suddenly, the disclaimer from the beginning of the films snaps in your mind. Images of dead bodies, dying bodies, hurting bodies, and damaged bodies are stringed together, culminating into an unforgettable stamp of suffering.
Just as this portrait of agony is comprised of different pieces, so is Samuel’s life. Caswell and Zagar don’t look at varying periods of Samuel’s life and cast the same actor to play the part. Instead, the co-directors get several actors to portray Samuel at ages two (Yaelle Swarz), seven and ten (Michael Romano), fourteen (Adam Dexter), seventeen and nineteen (Reich), and forty (Eric Russell). Caswell and Zagar go one step more and cast another actor to provide Samuel’s narrator voice (Richard Hoffman). Samuel’s life is presented in fragments, but the photos he takes serves as a sort of adhesive.
Caswell and Zagar, both born in the beginning of the Reagan Administration, can do a lot in ten minutes. They can efficiently develop a man’s life, offer significant moments in that life, and acquaint your eyes with visions you may have never seen before. Caswell and Zagar may not reveal what kind of truth is unbelievable, but whatever the answer might be is beside the point.