Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hot Docs review: His and Hers; Steam of Life

Not all documentaries are simple narratives where a filmmaker takes us on a journey of theirs or someone else's. Some films are built around an idea or a process. Two films at this year's Hot Docs are a collection of tales told in similar circumstances: the Irish film His and Hers by Ken Wardrop, and Joonas Berghäll's Finnish film Miesten Vuoro (Steam of Life).

His and Hers gives voice to 70 women from the Irish midlands. Starting with the youngest and progressively moving to older subjects, the film shows females discussing the various males in their lives - at first they talk about brothers and fathers, then boyfriends, then husbands and sons (interestingly, filmmaker Wardrop is an openly gay male). They are interviewed in their own homes, with additional footage of them doing housework especially through windows or glass.

Though there are moments of tedium as you might expect, there are also brilliant flashes of humour as well as great emotional impact. Well-shot on Super 16 mm film he filming is quite lovely and earned an award for cinematography at Sundance, before going on to win the Best Documentary Feature award at the Irish Film & Television Academy Awards.

Similarly, Steam of Life follows men as they sit together in saunas and tell each other their most personal stories. Their nakedness is a metaphor for the revealing nature and emotional rawness of some of their tales.

As with His and Hers, the stories are varied and perhaps uneven, but we also get humour as well as gut-wrenching tragedy. The cinematography is also gorgeous, and likewise was beautifully shot on Super-16 film. The style is less rigid and makes use of stunning landscapes.

These films won't be for everyone. But for those open and willing enough to explore a different approach, you will be rewarded with gentle, lyrical and touching films.

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