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Hot Docs 2014 Review: Joy of Man’s Desiring

There is perhaps no movie at Hot Docs quite like Denis Côté’s Joy of Man’s Desiring. This epic, (and yet extremely spare), tone poem manages to do so much in less than seventy minutes, and yet not much exposition takes place. One may even argue that it stretches the definition of what constitutes a documentary.

At times, Joy of Man’s Desiring resembles the first forty of minutes of the Pixar movie WALL·E, but set in the present day, (one thinks), in French, and with even less conversation. Then, Joy of Man’s Desiring comes to feel like a continuation of the ending of the Michael Haneke mediation Caché, but yet somehow not as expository in its narrative framework. This driving language of mechanisms, and humans driving these mechanisms hums along at a language all its own, coming to resemble the start of the Pink Floyd song Money, or the pulsing bass for a similar exploration into the nature of labour, Britney Jean Spears’ Work Bitch.

But the end reveals that this Côté project is its own beast, in what can be described as a surprising, but not quite a deux es machina ending, as there is plenty of machina speaking for itself). Suddenly, the Joy of Man’s Desiring becomes far clearer, and the ending should elicit an audible gasp from the remaining audience, (as it is anticipated that some will walk out, expecting a more conventional documentary). The mystery is revealed to be a nod to the title, which is based upon a J.S. Bach piece regarding the nature of ceremony.

Joy of Man’s Desiring features extremely vibrant uses of colour, (a scene that resembling Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables featuring Fantine at work is featured here, but to much greater effect), a scene featuring workers in shadow, and passersby and bicyclists lit up is eye-opening, and a long joke could stand on its own as a short. There is so much joy to be found here.

[star v=45]