directed by Håvard Bustnes
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 26-May 6, 2018 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Bill Chambers The eponymous Golden Dawn girls are three women connected by marriage or blood to Greece's relatively new but steadily growing Golden Dawn party. They've taken centre stage in the absence of the party's male superintendents, who are all incarcerated. (As Norwegian director Håvard Bustnes says at the outset: More on that later.) The Golden Dawn party evolved from a far-right newspaper into a fascist movement, though its affiliates rabidly resist the Nazi stigma. Nazis, they say, were German--this is Greece. Nazis were National Socialists, Golden Dawn-ers are Social Nationalists. My favourite defense comes from Dafni, mother of jailed member Panagiotis Iliopoulos, who insists that her son couldn't be a Nazi because he was born after WWII. In footage from a TV interview, Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris claims complete ignorance of this "Hitler" fellow when questioned about his "Sieg Heil" tattoo--"hail victory" simply seemed like a good message to spread via his arm. Asked why he had it written in German instead of Greek, then, he says the German font was an aesthetic preference. They have an answer for everything--never a good one, but typically one so literal-minded it shuts down discourse. Bustnes valiantly tries, over and over, to get them to budge, to confront their reflection--the image they present to the world.
This is a horrifying, topical, and horrifyingly topical movie about the rise of nativism, but every Nick Broomfield-esque cut to Bustnes's look of constipated despair holds up a deadpan mirror to the viewer, providing that spoonful of gallows humour that makes the bleakness go down. If Bustnes misses an opportunity to examine the party's gender politics during this unique time of distaff leadership, it's easy to see how he could become exasperated with his subjects' cageyness to the exclusion of all else. Bustnes shows Ourania incontrovertible evidence of Golden Dawn's heritage: pictures of Michaloliakos and other members of her family doing the Sieg Heil in front of a Nazi flag while wearing swastika T-shirts. "When you say your father's not a Nazi, do you really believe it yourself? Or do you lie to yourself?" He wants her to know that loving her father does not oblige her to support his beliefs. In response, she defaults to a Manchurian Candidate position of championing dear old dad mind, body, and soul, leading him back to his original question: "Do you support the Nazis?" She asks him, after one hell of a Freudian slip ("Isn't it my right not to understand--not to answer something?"), why he needs her to answer that question. The reason is that she's personable in a way the others aren't--and still young, ultimately. She is/was his best hope for a moral awakening within the party. Bustnes then cuts to a baptism for Jenny and Kaiadas's offspring: the cycle of indoctrination beginning anew. It would be heavyhanded if it weren't the truth.