Monday, 1 May 2017

A BETTER MAN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 HotDocs HotPick - An Abused & Abuser Kaffeeklatsch

Scumbag Abuser Meets Victim 20+ Years Later.
You don't see this everyday.

A Better Man (2017)
Dir. Attiya Khan, Lawrence Jackman

Review By Greg Klymkiw

About halfway through A Better Man, I bolted from the cinema and puked my guts out. I'm still not completely sure why. What I remember is feeling mounting rage whenever one of the documentary's subjects, a scumbag abuser, was onscreen. I suspect the desired effect of the film was not to make me want to find this piece of garbage and fucking tear him limb from limb. I'm not exaggerating. Whenever I had to look at this pile of shit, I started to close my eyes or just turn away and look somewhere else and all the while I kept having fantasies about the delectable myriad of tortures I'd apply to him. I won't share them with you, but rest assured, they're pretty horrendous. As the movie unspooled they got sicker and meaner. I mean, really sick, really mean. As I write this, I'm so tempted to share them with you, but no - I'll keep them to myself.

What I can say for sure, and again, whether this was the intent of the film or not, it made me feel hatred. Deep, genuine hatred. It made me think about who I am, my own experiences, my own place in the world, as a man, and most notably, it left me asking questions, some of which I'd wished the film itself answered. Though it didn't, it forced me to try and answer them all by my lonesome.

It made me think about my own sweet teenage daughter and what I would do if she ever had to suffer what the film's co-director and chief subject Attiya Khan suffered 23-years ago when she co-habited with the wad of stinking excrement who purportedly loved her, but inflicted endless, brutal physical abuse upon her. I know one thing. I would want to do many of the things I fantasized about last night - I'd really, really want to do them.

Wanting and doing are, however, two different things. Doing any of those things would result in being separated from someone who would need me to be around for her sake. Incarceration, no matter how unjustified it would be for exacting true justice, would be no substitute for being present and free to offer the kind of love and support that would be needed - the love and support that supersedes any violence that could/should be applied to turds like him.

A Better Man is an important and original film. I actually don't think anything quite like it has ever been made. What you will experience in the picture feels almost unprecedented. Over two decades after suffering abuse, Khan gets her abuser to agree to be in this film with her to discuss the horrors he inflicted. They meet alone, face to face, they share time, together and alone, with a counsellor and in one of the more harrowing sequences I've ever experienced in a movie, they journey to the shithole of Kitchener-Waterloo to visit the locations where the physical abuse took place.

The film clearly wants to explore the notion of healing - for both the abused and the abuser. What ends up happening, and this is (I think/hope) not the fault of the filmmaking, is that the abuser continually avoids digging deep. He never fully articulates the extent (and details) of the violence he committed. Even more maddening is that he never fully reveals what he might have suffered in his life prior to living with and meting out continued assaults upon his live-in girlfriend.

What's creepy about this stinking landfill on two legs is that he seems even a bit smug about the "bravery" of agreeing to be in the film. Worse yet, his bravery even seems to take on fetishistic properties. It's like he's getting off on doing this. I couldn't help but imagine him watching the movie at home alone and having a right happy masturbation session over it. The bottom line, is that I have no fucking use for him. It sickens me that he's wasting air that others could breathe.

The movie itself will certainly have its place in film history, but it would be remiss of me to avoid the fact that it's not nearly as good as it could be. First of all, it feels oddly truncated - as if there are huge, vital chunks on some cutting room floor somewhere. Secondly, it doesn't go nearly as deep into the subject of domestic abuse as one wants it to. In both cases, my criticisms here seem linked to the many unanswered questions which, ultimately, need to be part of the experience of seeing this film.

Where, for example, were Khan's family in all this? She describes her extremely visible wounds. Did she hide this from her family? If so, why don't we get some insight into this? (At one point we find out her teachers at school had an inkling of what was going on, but the film leaves us wanting in terms of why more, if anything, wasn't done by authority figures.)

We watch the movie waiting for sequences that penetrate the issues of why the abused stayed and why the abuser abused. These are addressed, but not nearly with the dogged, deep detail the movie seems to demand. The movie is missing a pit bull - someone or something to grab hold with its teeth and jaws and never let go.

Yes, the movie was made. Yes, the movie forces us to think about and address the issue of domestic violence. Yes, it has power. Yes, it's original.

But sorry, it's not enough. It oddly feels like a film with too many cooks tossing in and/or removing ingredients into the pot. This might not be the case, but that the movie feels this way suggests that it wasn't worked hard enough. (And if there were a few too many cooks, they all need to go back to cooking school and leave filmmakers alone.)

There is one very strange thing about the experience of first seeing the film that stuck out for me like a sore thumb. As the movie begins, the following title card appears:
The film describes scene of intimate partner violence which may be painful for some viewers. Please exercise care and compassion for yourself and any fellow viewers.

What's this supposed to mean? Whose not-bright idea was it to assail us with these words? Given the bravery and importance of the film, its worth (in spite of its flaws) as a work of art, giving us this boneheaded non-warning warning about nothing, is an insult to the film and, frankly, its viewers. What's the point of telling us what we're about to see? What's the point of telling us how potentially horrific it's going to be? And then, what, pray tell is the point of telling us how fucking touchy-feely sensitive we have to be about ourselves and fellow viewers while we watch the movie?

Seriously, this is one of the most idiotic things I've ever witnessed in any movie.

I beg whoever is responsible for this to cut it. Treat your audiences and the film with respect by not telling us a load of nonsense and tainting the purity of the picture.

And speaking of cuts, I must reiterate - this movie feels truncated. Something tells me the picture needs to be pulled and a rethink on what's probably sitting on the floor somewhere needs to happen. This movie needs breathing space. It needs to be the best it can possibly be. It's too original and important not to have this lavished upon it.


A Better Man is an NFB production enjoying its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2017.