Sunday, 8 May 2016

THE SINGING ABORTIONIST - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF 2016) continues to deliver the goods with films ideal for their audiences, but frankly, they are playing films which should be played in a myriad of film festivals, Jewish or not. This fine documentary tells the story of a Canadian Hero who performed heroic feats the whole world should acknowledge and know about.

The Singing Abortionist (2015)
Dir. Dara Bratt

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Dr. Henry Morgentaler was a one-man army. Given his strength and perseverance, one is tempted to affix him with Schwarzenegger-like Commando-Terminator-Predator and Rambo attributes all rolled into one pumped-to-the-max-fighting-machine.

Morgentaler was pumped, alright, but not with freakishly enhanced testosterone, but rather, a passionate distaste for rules, regulations and laws which made little sense except to those who decreed them as such (and unlike cinematic one-man-armies, he was geeky, spindly, bespectacled and bearded).

The fact of the matter is that this brilliant, charming and committed "soldier" (who died in 2013 at the age of 90) fought valiantly for the rights of women in Canada, and by extension, the rest of the world.

Both loved and hated in his adopted country of Canada, his influence was felt the world over, yet very few outside its borders know his name. Dara Bratt's superb documentary The Singing Abortionist skilfully details his career as a kind, caring physician who specialized in providing abortions at a time when it was a criminal offence. He faced police harassment, prosecution, hatred, death-threats and prison, but nothing stopped him from allowing women the choice to safely terminate unwanted pregnancies.

His credo was simple: "to help people is not a crime" and in 1970, he delivered his famous press conference in which he admitted to having performed over 7000 "illegal" abortions - all with the highest level of medical care.

The film details all of this through a deft blend of interviews with the late Morgentaler (in addition to friends, family and supporters) and superbly chosen archival footage. It also provides an excellent summary of the landmark de-criminalization of abortion via two constitutional challenges he launched, one in 1975, which he lost (but bringing the issue to the fore), and then in 1988, which he won.

It's a thorough, loving biographical portrait which tells the story of a man who lived through Nazi-occupied Poland, first in the infamous ghetto of Łódź and then as a survivor of Dachau, through to his immigration to Canada, then his groundbreaking medical career and eventually, his life-long commitment to the rights of women.

Bratt does not avoid his personal life either - his complex, but eventually failed marriage, as well as his insatiable charm over a myriad of brilliant, beautiful women (not to mention his loving, but oft-estranged relationships with his children), all adds fleshing out a truly great man.

Morgentaler's experiences during the Holocaust also do not take a backseat - Bratt demonstrates how they fuelled him to always put what was right and just, first and foremost. The sadness and heartache of Dachau, did not crush him, it fuelled his desire to fight - not with bullets, but medicine and a huge sense of rebelliousness (he did, after all, perform an abortion - LIVE - on TV during Mother's Day of 1972).

On the surface, this is a simple, straightforward documentary, but it's executed with skill, passion and, in so doing, provides an extremely moving glimpse into the heart and soul of a warrior.

One sincerely hopes it will be seen as widely as possible so the world, beyond Canada, will be able to appreciate and acknowledge a true hero whose battles against the injustices so many women faced (and still, sadly, continue to face). As such, this film has considerable potential to continue Morgentaler's own unflagging war against ignorance and injustice.

By the way, The Singing Abortionist is such a great title, so apt, so inspirationally impudent, that I'll let you discover why when you make a point of seeing this important work.

The Film Corner Rating: **** 4-Stars

The Singing Abortionist enjoys its Toronto Premiere at the TJFF 2016.