Hot Docs 2014: Love Me and Don’t Leave Me
The documentary begins and ends with the same question, what is love? Director Jonathon Narducci attempts to answer that question by following around several men who are desperately searching for love. These men come from various backgrounds and relationship histories, ranging from recently divorced to men who have only been in one long-term relationship. But these men share a common mission, to find a loving companion through a popular mail-order bride website.
It becomes downright fascinating to watch these delusional men get suckered into the booming Ukraine mail-order bride industry. Even though these men are similar to the people who get swindled into email scams, it’s hard not to have a humanizing response when one of the subjects utters, “I don’t want to be alone anymore.” So these men pony up tens of thousands of dollars to travel to the Ukraine for social meet-ups with women organized by the website.
At these social parties, young beautiful women outnumber the men 10-to-1 and seem to take unconditional interest in the men. This seems way too good to actually be true. Eventually some of the subjects finally start to question the legitimacy. The best moment in Love Me shows a man who traveled to the Ukraine to meet the girl he exchanged ten-dollar emails with, only to be stood up and left to wonder if it was just a $10,000 scam. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch.
Love Me obeys a golden rule in documentary filmmaking by not forcing an agenda. It would’ve been easy to ridicule these desperate men on their unrealistic quest for love. But the documentary refrains from doing so, highlighting their innocence and desire for basic human companionship. Perhaps the most shocking part of the documentary is that not all the relationships were completely bogus. Though Narducci never finds a concrete answer for what love is or how to exactly find it, Love me serves as a lesson that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)
When Marcel’s wife leaves him after sixteen-years of marriage he copes the only way he knows how, hitting the bottle hard with his best friend Bob. They claim to want to disappear from life, though it’s hard to tell how serious they actually are when they describe various methods of suicide so casually. In the beginning, their silly actions under the influence are played for laughs, but when signs of alcoholism are noticeable Don’t Leave Me shifts into a much more depressing tone.
Directors Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden do an excellent job of staying out of the way and simply observe the two friends chat while they consume heavy doses of alcohol. But there are times when the camera remains fixated on the characters without anything compelling happening–a lengthy scene with Marcel listening to the radio while eating ice cream comes to mind. Thankfully, the documentary makes up for some of these tedious moments by capturing breathtaking views of the Belgium countryside. The filmmakers save the best for last as Don’t Leave Me ends with a harrowing final shot which makes the whole experience rewarding. The ending alone makes this documentary worth watching.