Temperamentally disinclined to put down his camcorder, ever, an eccentric Frenchman named Thierry Guetta sets out to make a documentary about street art. Connections lead him not only to figures like Shepard Fairey (whose iconic Obama “HOPE” image went viral) but also Banksy, the notorious, pseudonymous British underground artist known for both the extreme secrecy surrounding his identity and the risks he takes for his art—facing Israeli army fire to paint on the West Bank wall, for instance. Because his paintings and sculptures are ephemeral, Banksy reasons—his face is obscured by a hoodie and his voice is digitally tweaked—why not immortalize them on video? But that summary only scratches the surface of this dizzying film essay, which seeks to confound the lines between free expression and crime, mainstream and counterculture, fame and obscurity and filmmaker and subject. (Note who’s credited as director.)
To reveal more would spoil the movie’s surprises, which many, not unreasonably, have questioned as a sort of prank in themselves. It doesn’t make much difference: Guetta and Banksy’s invasion of Disneyland would be hilarious both as fiction and something stranger than fiction, and the final act crosses over to the Twilight Zone. As an investigation into the creation of artistic celebrity, the movie may not be as ingenious as Orson Welles’s similar F for Fake. But as far as stunt documentaries go, Banksy is the new Borat.