Zagar family mosaic, fractured

The following review originally appeared during the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Isaiah Zagar's art is all over Philadelphia's South Street corridor. And his restless spirit - and painful secrets - are all over In a Dream, a stunning, deeply personal documentary portrait by the muralist's youngest son, Jeremiah Zagar.

Like the dazzling, colorful mosaics that Isaiah has pasted to buildings around town - crazy-quilt images of people (often including the artist himself), shards of shattered mirror, cracked crockery, wine bottles, bicycle wheels - his life has been kaleidoscopic, yet singularly focused.

Now 69, Isaiah and his wife, Julia, have been fixtures in Philadelphia since the hippie days of yesteryear. She runs the Eyes Gallery and he runs around town, looking for blank walls to cover. There are more than 100 of his murals in the city, and the "magic garden" in front of his studio has become a tourist destination. Buses pull up, people pose for photos, marvel at the glorious madness of Isaiah's endeavors.

Jeremiah Zagar, whose 2002 short "Delhi House" offered a clear-eyed look at the squalor and hope of an orphanage in India, trains his camera on his father, mother, and brother in In a Dream. It couldn't have been easy: Along with revelations about Isaiah's fragile mental state and childhood sexual abuse, the film captures the Zagars at a crisis point. Isaiah confesses he's been having an affair, and Julia, understandably, breaks down - then breaks up with her soul mate of so many decades.

Mixing old home movies, wonderful animated sequences derived from Isaiah's art, and scenes of Isaiah at work, of Julia in agony, and of their eldest son, Zeke, grappling with his own demons, In a Dream captures a family in a state of implosion.

The Zagars' lives are laid bare, in broken bits, like the ceramic Isaiah uses for his art. And they come together in In a Dream in a mosaic of sadness and beauty, rage and insight.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5628 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.


In a Dream

Directed by Jeremiah Zagar. With Ezekiel Zagar, Isaiah Zagar, Julia Zagar. Distributed by International Film Circuit.

Running time: 1 hours, 20 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().