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Hot Docs Reviews: Transformer, The Night of All Nights, Bernie Langille Wants to Know Who Killed Bernie Langille, Golden Dawn Girls, Playing Hard

April 27, 2018

By John Corrado

The 25th edition of the Hot Docs Film Festival is on until May 6th in Toronto.  More information on tickets and showtimes can be found through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

Transformer – ★★★ (out of 4) Gaining fame as a champion weightlifter and bodybuilder, and also serving in the US Marines, Matt “Kroc” Kroczaleski was seen as a symbol of stereotypical masculinity, and came across as a classic “strong man.”  But he always felt there was something different about himself, which he tried to keep hidden.  After being outed as transgender on the internet in 2015, and subsequently getting dropped by valuable sponsors because of it, Matt decided to stop living a secret life and finally transition to Janae.

Director Michael Del Monte gains intimate access to Kroczaleski’s family life, showing her at home with her three supportive sons, and capturing candid moments when she goes to visit her parents, who both initially struggled to come to terms with the transition.  Whether applying makeup, picking out feminine outfits, or pumping iron with nail polish on, Kroczaleski is always open with the camera, and constantly challenging traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity.  While the bathroom bill and trans military ban likely would have been in the news at the same time as the film was wrapping up, Transformer takes a largely apolitical approach to telling its story, and this is one of the strengths of the piece.  It allows us to focus on the human element first and foremost, and the film functions as an engaging character piece that provides a fascinating and compassionate look at body image issues and gender identity.

Friday, April 27th – 6:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Sunday, April 29th – 12:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Thursday, May 3rd – 8:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 13

The Night of All Nights – ★★★ (out of 4) The stories of four diverse couples who have all been together for five decades or more are told in The Night of All Nights, a very charming documentary that looks at what makes a relationship last.  The three married couples include Hildegard and Heinz-Sigfried in Germany, who are still in love after many years even though they sometimes bicker; Kamala and Nagarajayya in India, who have a love marriage but faced backlash from his family because they are from different castes; and Shigeko and Isao in Japan, who were forced to get married.  The fourth and perhaps most interesting couple is Bill and Norman, two partners who have been together since the 1950s, long before gay marriage was legalized, and are finally preparing to tie the knot.  Director Yasemin Samdereli does a fine job of shifting between the different stories, and the film features some brief claymation interludes to help separate them out.  The couples talk openly about the some of the struggles they have faced in their relationships and also what has kept them together, and The Night of All Nights is ultimately a feel good film, despite having some sadder moments along the way.

Saturday, April 28th – 9:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Monday, April 30th – 12:45 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre
Friday, May 4th – 9:00 PM at Fox Theatre

Bernie Langille Wants to Know Who Killed Bernie Langille – ★★★ (out of 4) An eighteen minute short film that is screening as part of the Below the Surface shorts program, the cleverly titled Bernie Langille Wants to Know Who Killed Bernie Langille features a grandson seeking to uncover what actually led to the mysterious death of his grandfather, a military electrician in Halifax whom he was named after.  Although his grandfather died in 1968, fifteen years before he was born, Bernie grew up hearing the stories about the freak accident – a fall down the stairs – that supposedly led to his death, but as he actually looks into it he starts to realize that something doesn’t add up, and seeks to obtain the medical records.  Told through an interview with Bernie Langille, who serves as our narrator and appears framed in the centre of the screen, and featuring reenactments done using intricately crafted miniature sets built by the all-female art department, this is an engaging and very well made true crime documentary.  Director Jackie Torrens unravels the story in an impressively concise way, packing a lot into the short running time.  It could easily lead to a longer feature in the future.

Monday, April 30th – 9:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Wednesday, May 2nd – 3:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 7
Saturday, May 5th – 6:00 PM at Innis Town Hall

Golden Dawn Girls – ★★★ (out of 4) When the leader as well as the majority of members of parliament from Greece’s highly nationalistic Golden Dawn party are arrested on charges of violence, the women behind them step into the spotlight to keep the movement going.  Presenting himself as a neutral force, Norwegian filmmaker Håvard Bustnes is able to embed himself within the party and follow these women for quite some time, sometimes leaving the camera rolling even after they tell him to stop.  What emerges reveals the discrepancies between the slightly more moderate side they desperately try to present to the world, and the extremist views that they really hold.

Although they remain bullish when asked if they consider themselves Neo-Nazis, we get the sense that they have at least some sympathies with Hitler’s Germany.  The party has an extreme anti-immigrant slant and talks openly about preserving the sanctity of their white race, with one of their members even appearing in a TV interview where he speaks out against interracial relationships.  They describe themselves as “social nationalists,” the logo that emblazons their flags is disturbingly similar to a swastika, and the Nazi salute is commonly done at their rallies with shouts of “sieg heil.”  But despite all of this, and the arrest of many of the men in their ranks, Golden Dawn continues to draw strong support, mainly from working class voters who feel disenfranchised by the direction their country is going.  The film provides a fascinating look at the disturbing allure that fascism still holds for some people in the midst of our chaotic world.

Tuesday, May 1st – 8:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Thursday, May 3rd – 12:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3
Sunday, May 6th – 12:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Playing Hard – ★★★ (out of 4) Jason VandenBerghe is the driving creative force behind For Honor, a video game being produced by Ubisoft in Montreal.  Filled with Vikings and armoured knights, the medieval fighting game has been his passion project for years, but as the game actually reaches fruition, creative differences start to emerge between him and the other people working on it.  Director Jean-Simon Chartier takes us behind the scenes of the game in Playing Hard, which mainly follows Jason as he oversees the project in the office, while also going on a promotional tour and preparing to unveil the game during a presentation at the E3 gaming convention.  The film would have benefitted from delving deeper into the fraught relationships that emerge between him and some of the other developers, which are only hinted at in the last act, but Playing Hard is still a fairly engaging look at the work that goes into making a video game.  Even as someone who isn’t a gamer, I found this to be an interesting look at the creative process, from the initial spark of an idea to the final feeling of grief that comes when the project is done and you are no longer working on it.

Wednesday, May 2nd – 9:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Thursday, May 3rd – 2:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 13
Friday, May 4th – 8:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 3

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