Review by Dan Skip Allen
Documentaries are stories about all kinds of subjects told from their perspective. What tends to be fascinating about the genre is how these films deal with all kinds of strange topics and people. The Penny Black might be one of the strangest stories I've watched in all the years I've been watching films.
The main subject of the film is a guy named Will who is the neighbor of a Russian guy named Roman and his wife Luba. Roman gets to know Will and he feels he can trust him, so he decides to give him a bunch of stamps in binders. He says he'll be back in two weeks to get the stamps, but if he doesn't come back to give them to his mother. The thing is Roman doesn't come back and Will has no way of locating his mother. The stamps lead him down a crazy path.
It turns out the stamps are worth around a million dollars and people are interested in them because of their value. This film has a lot of twists and turns that the filmmakers and subjects of it don't see coming. Is Will on the up and up? Is he telling the truth? Is this whole film a waste of time? There are a lot of questions to be asked and answered by the filmmakers. Will's past may come into focus to show what kind of person he is and where his motivations lie.
The mystery in this film is the main focus of it. It's a fascinating story told in a very interesting way given the documentary style. It seems to me this would have been better suited as a narrative film instead of a documentary. Maybe Will could have written a script instead of enlisting documentary filmmakers. This film doesn't have your everyday normal way of telling a story.
The film gets bogged down with interviews with Will. Talking heads can be informative in documentaries, but the conversation just seems a bit repetitive. After everything that happens, this whole film is just a cat-and-mouse game where Will is just trying to track Roman down. If this story has to come to its conclusion, it will determine if this film is a success or not. That's how it all started so it's the obvious conclusion to this strange and interesting story.
This film is an intriguing one. The main subject, Will, is a little shady. I couldn't figure out if he was telling the truth the entire time. This could have all been made up to get the filmmakers to follow him around and go down all these rabbit holes. His backstory may have played into this story in the end. Will started and ended this film on his terms.
The Penny Black hits virtual cinemas on May 21 and VOD on June 1.