Film Reviews

Review: ‘Don Juan’

Hot Docs 2016

Courtesy of Hot Docs


Don Juan
(Sweden/Finland, 92 min.)
Dir. Jerzy Sladkowski
Programme: International Spectrum (North American Premiere)

A coming-of-age story about a young Russian man whose autism has made him socially awkward, Don Juan aspires toward major crowd-pleaser status. Good-natured 22-years-old Oleg never seems lost and confused, but he doesn’t connect with people the way he would like to. He has never had a girlfriend.

Oleg is an underdog trying really hard to achieve a greater degree of normalcy. In a film that depends on audience empathy with its protagonist, the bond with him strengthens when we witness his relationship with his mother Marina. In several scenes, she attacks him with cruel insults and reminds him of what a burden he is. Poor Oleg has to put up with so much because of his condition. He doesn’t need a mother who harasses him, expects him to massage her, and then suddenly wants him to kiss her.

The story kicks up to another level when Oleg plays Don Juan in a stage production as part of a therapy scheme and meets a lively, pretty girl who shows genuine interest in him. The dramatic tension at this point: will Oleg’s relationship with Tania flourish or crash?

The hooks in this documentary seem scripted, as do many of the seemingly blocked scenes. No one speaks to camera. Then again, much of today’s doc filmmaking overlaps with fiction techniques. In the end, this hybrid doc has much to recommend it.

Don Juan screens:
-Monday, May 2 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 1:00 PM
-Sunday, May 7 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 1:15 PM

Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information.

Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off- and on-line, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter while researching other Jamaica-related projects, including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island. He has written for radio, journals and TV, taught screenwriting and been a contributing editor to various magazines.

View all articles by Maurie Alioff »