directed by Carlo Guillermo Proto
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 27-May 7, 2016 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Bill Chambers Denis Harting, his childhood sweetheart Peggy, and their daughter Lauviah busk together as a capella singers on the Montreal metro. Peggy prefers performing outside to inside: "It's more fun and it's more money. And people are a bit goofier." She says this to her secret boyfriend, Philou, during one of their transatlantic phone calls, which she's becoming increasingly brazen about. If you're going to pity Denis, pity him for getting cuckolded, not because he's blind. After all, so are Peggy and Lauviah. Lauviah had a brother, Hassan, who died in a drowning accident at the age of six. Denis tells a radio interviewer his death made headlines, so I looked it up and discovered that Hassan was not also blind. His parents donated his corneas--not to Lauviah, alas. As I type this, I'm wondering about the ethical propriety of that, were it medically possible. Like any work of direct cinema, Resurrecting Hassan raises as many questions as it answers, though it goes the extra mile in pursuing objective truthfulness by narrowing the camera's field of vision with staggeringly intimate close-ups. It's not Derek Jarman's Blue, but this blotting out of their surroundings does foster empathy for the Hartings, who are quite often literally the blind leading the blind. (They walk the streets in a linked huddle and assist one another at home.) There's a conversation to be had, in a longer, more considered review, about whether scenes like Lauviah--who additionally has some form of autism--petting her cat wrong constitute exploitation. Personally, I was grateful the movie didn't lapse into inspiration porn, and I tend to think of all cinéma vérité as exploitation anyway. (Besides, it's a poignant moment, as the two most isolated figures in the house beg for mutual compassion.) The question to ask is if pointing a camera at this family is cynical, and that's an issue compounded by their being followers of Grigory Grabovoy, a Russian faith healer who claims that human organs can be regenerated at will. To unbury another lede (or drop a bombshell), the Hartings have somehow convinced themselves that Grabovoy's teachings are the key to bringing their son back from the dead, per the title. It's a bizarre set of variables, no doubt, but Denis and Peggy's desire for their own personal Monkey's Paw, deluded though it may be, is only too relatable. Resurrecting Hassan is an inspired and unusually affecting film about grief, which proves an insurmountable burden even for the Hartings, who live lives of constant adaptation.