Tile artist Isaiah Zagar lives his life as one giant piece of performance art. He uses the city of Philadelphia and the sides of buildings as canvases for massive mosaics depicting, among other subjects, his family and fantasy life. With his shaman beard, mad-guru vibe, and bottomless self-absorption, Zagar doesn’t need a camera following him around to make him feel like the center of attention. So when his filmmaker son Jeremiah showed up to chronicle his colorful life, Zagar was more than ready for his close-up.
In the queasily voyeuristic documentary In A Dream,Jeremiah Zagar documents the fallout when his brother Zeke goes to rehab and his father confesses that he’s been sleeping with his assistant for three years. A family with a flair for the dramatic instantly lurches into crazed melodrama. Will they be able to weather the storm, or will Isaiah’s confession tear their seemingly ideal bohemian existence apart?
Even before Isaiah’s admission of infidelity, his wife Julia chafes under her husband’s insatiable hunger for the spotlight and elaborate self-mythology. Isaiah consequently dominates In A Dream as thoroughly he dominates his family. Zeke and Jeremiah are fatally underdeveloped by comparison. In a dynamic that mirrors their roles within the family, they’re mainly reduced to reacting to Isaiah’s eccentricities, as is his strong-willed yet longsuffering wife, who’s torn between wanting to preserve the life they built together over decades, and her anger and hurt at being betrayed. In A Dream somehow manages to be disturbingly confessional and frustratingly evasive, as it skips elliptically from a crisis among emotional exhibitionists to a not entirely convincing happy ending. What’s onscreen is vivid and compelling, but the film only seems to tell part of the story.