Review: ‘Buddy’

Hot Docs 2019

2 mins read

(Netherlands, 86 min.)
Dir. Heddy Honigmann
Programme: Special Presentations

You can hardly go wrong with any decent documentary about dogs. Add the wisdom and technique of veteran Peru-born, Dutch filmmaker Heddy Honigmann and you have an unbeatable recipe for a combination of an artful and crowd-pleasing film. Honigmann, the winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award at 2007’s Hot Docs Festival, as well as the subject of numerous international retrospectives, excels at exploring emotional intimacy on varied subjects from war widows, erotic poetry, subway musicians and cemeteries.

In Buddy, she toggles between the experiences of a half-dozen people and their service dogs, over a brisk 86 minutes, touching on trauma and disability while retaining a tone of celebration and wonder. A boy with autism, Zeb, explains how his labradoodle, Utah, helps distracts him from his moments of anger. Trevor, an Afghanistan war veteran suffering from post-traumatic distress disorder, uses his dog, Mister, to wake him from nightmares. Edith, a woman in her eighties who was blinded as a child in the Second World War, runs through the forest with her dog. Another guide, Keiko, whose owner, a young woman named Ern, has limited mobility, opens drawers, helps Ern undress and even tucks her into bed.

Using long takes and few edits, Honigmann’s films have an elemental simplicity but her real strength is her empathetic curiosity, as, off-camera, she poses the kind of blunt, heart-felt questions we want to hear answered by her subjects.

Buddy screens:
-Tues, Apr. 30 at 10:30 AM at TIFF Lightbox

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!

Update: Buddy opens in theatres with a run beginning June 21 at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.

Liam Lacey is a freelance writer for and POV, Canada’s premiere magazine about documentaries and independent films.

Previously, he was a film critic for The Globe and Mail newspaper from 1995 to 2015. He has also contributed to such publications as Variety, Cinema Scope, Screen, and Entertainment Weekly, as well as broadcast outlets CBC and National Public Radio.

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