Film Reviews

Review: ‘Mr. Gaga’

Hot Docs 2016

Photo by Gadi Dagon
Courtesy of Hot Docs


Mr. Gaga
(Israel/Sweden/Netherlands/Germany, 100 min.)
Dir. Tomer Heymann
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)

This energetic doc from Israeli director Tomer Heymann (I Shot My Love) celebrates the work of choreographer Ohad Naharin. Mr. Gaga spans the career of the dancer as he evolves as an athlete, performer, and artist. Heymann thoroughly mines the archives for performances of Naharin’s numbers and this lively, unexpectedly political film is an exhilarating ode to cultural expression.

The film predominately features excerpts of Naharin’s contemporary dances as members of the Batsheva Dance Company, of which he is the artistic director, perform his choreography. His dances recall the work of Pina Bausch with their avant-garde abstraction, and the film is bound to please fans of the Wim Wenders film about the German choreographer. Any dance doc emerging on the heels of Pina has big shoes to fill, though, and while Mr. Gaga doesn’t quite have the fully revitalising bravado of Wenders’ 3D portrait, it’s a consistently engaging film.

The doc also traces Naharin’s evolution as an artist by showing the development of his signature form of “gaga dancing,” which resembles a kind of physical babble in which dancers freely interpret the music, rather than focus on technique. The moves are therapeutic for those who dare to try them. Similarly, the film finds its own catharsis as it depicts the death of Naharin’s wife and long-time collaborator Mari.

Mr. Gaga is at its strongest when Heymann focuses on an episode in which Naharin’s work faced censorship when organisers of Israel’s 50th anniversary celebrations insisted he clothe his dancers more modestly. The doc shows how Naharin withdrew the work in protest and the film reveals the ongoing importance of the arts to interpret and interrogate the world in which we live. Naharin’s dances assume greater resonance in this immersive doc.

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.