Everything Is Incredible

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A moving short documentary, Everything is Incredible is about a man pursuing an improbable, Quixotic dream, and how that dream gives his life meaning. A poor Honduran, ravaged by polio in his youth and confined to a wheelchair, Agustin has spent the past five decades building a helicopter from scrap metal and bicycle parts found on rubbish dumps. He is a fascinating subject, and like the best documentaries about eccentric individuals who play the game of life more strangely than the rest of us (Crumb, Man on Wire), the filmmakers betray an obvious affection for their subject, never crossing the line into mockery or exploitation.

In a making-of documentary, Tyler Bastian, who co-directed the film with Trevor Hill and Isaac Strack, says that Agustin’s story shows him that ‘anyone can do anything’. But the film itself does not take this triumphant tone. Far from being the feel-good story of an against-all-odds achievement (like, for example, that of the Malawian teenager who built a working electric windmill out of junk), we quickly realise Agustin’s crude ‘caricature of a helicopter’ will never fly. But what is so touching, so poignant, is how his dream of flight sustains him and gives his life meaning; at the end of the film, an American missionary wonders if Agustin’s helicopter has kept him alive, and been able to conquer his loneliness and poverty. A distraction from suffering, Agustin’s helicopter is a little like Sisyphus’ boulder. Albert Camus tells us that ‘the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart’, and indeed, one must imagine Agustin happy.

The missionary is one of several people, including neighbours and relatives, who tell Agustin’s story through talking head interviews, their reactions ranging from admiration to despair. Intelligently used, the talking heads not only fill in the backstory of Agustin’s life, but also paint a picture of a kind of folk hero, and align Agustin with the local children, kindred spirits who share his idealism and capacity for wonder. While the lighting is at times inconsistent, and some of the cutaways (to flowers swaying in the wind, a grazing horse, for example) seem arbitrary, any formal weaknesses are compensated for by the thing that distinguishes so many great documentaries, from Bill Cunningham: New York to Being Elmo: an intriguing, enigmatic subject who inspires our affection.

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