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Review: Hot Docs is all about 'Love, Factually' Special

Posted Apr 23, 2014 by Sarah Gopaul
Hot Docs Film Festival adds “Love, Factually” to this year’s programme, featuring documentaries about people in love, looking for love and everything in between. We look at three selections: ‘Love & Engineering,’ ‘Love Hotel’ and ‘Love Me'
A scene from  Love Me
A scene from 'Love Me'
Hot Docs
While some may perceive documentaries as a rather serious form of film, it’s really just a visual medium with which to explore the world and is particularly adept at capturing the human experience. Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival divides its 197 official selections and retrospectives into 12 programmes. A special category this year is “Love, Factually,” which showcases stories about love, passion and matters of the heart. Three of the programme’s 11 films are highlighted below. One takes a scientific approach to dating, another is about the secret passions seeking sanctuary amongst Japan’s conservatism, and the final documentary explores the booming mail-order bride industry.
A scene from  Love & Engineering
A scene from 'Love & Engineering'
Hot Docs
Love & Engineering
Director: Tonislav Hristov
When out of luck with love, one often wishes there was an instruction manual to finding and keeping that special someone. This can be even truer for the logically minded, such as those in careers related to math and science, who may seek a formula for relationships or pragmatic explanations for certain things. In Love & Engineering, a group of men in the IT sector are led by their married co-worker in a series of dating experiments based on experience and scientific findings.
It’s somewhat of a real-life comedy as the men create lists and charts recording successful pick-up techniques, test the appeal of various scents and monitor brain waves during a flirtatious conversation. Of course, in the real world things cannot be easily quantified and not all actions or feelings will have a rational explanation. While they have a lot of fun trying out their theories, actually succeeding in attracting a woman modifies the field and introduces a new set of parameters. One of the more confident engineers begins dating a woman, but when it doesn’t work out he’s frustrated not only by the rejection but also his inability to manage his emotions in spite of knowing and understanding the chemical responses responsible for them.
Essentially what is chronicled is “love” from the nerd’s perspective. Moving between the lab and the outside world, it’s entertaining to watch them apply their strategies free from a controlled setting, and in some cases witness them gain the self-assurance to rely less on the systems developed and be themselves.
A scene from  Love Hotel
A scene from 'Love Hotel'
Hot Docs
Love Hotel
Directors: Philip Cox and Hikaru Toda
The title suggests something akin to a red light district, but Love Hotel illustrates it's a bit more sophisticated than that. Japan's 37,000 love hotels are frequented by 2.8 million people daily and their purposes can be found on a broad spectrum ranging from secret affairs to fetishes to attempts at spicing up a stale marriage. Following a variety of patrons, filmmakers are allowed to capture their intimate moments as they explain why they need these establishments. In addition, the staff that runs the Angelo Love Hotel in Osaka is shown in their daily routines that include facilitating check-ins, cleaning and resetting the themed rooms, and taking orders for and delivering food and sex toys.
The flip side of this story is the conservative government's desire to eliminate such businesses. Their position is initially voiced through a news report heard in the background of the narrative. As the threat becomes more concrete, the voice over becomes more prominent. The proposed revisions to an already existing law by the “entertainment police” would not only shut down most love hotels based on their current designs but also prevent dancing after midnight.
The hotels' clients and managers describe widespread repression related to cultural expectations, small living spaces, long work hours and a lack of privacy. But the candidness with which they express themselves about and during these secret excursions is a significant contrast. In a sense, the filmmakers allow their testimonies to independently make the case for the necessity of these locations and its contributions to people’s stability in such an inhibiting environment.
A scene from  Love Me
A scene from 'Love Me'
GAT Productions
Love Me
Director: Jonathon Narducci
Relying on extensive questionnaires, complicated algorithms and the honour system, people are increasingly meeting their long-term mates by computer. In Love Me, they go one step further by expanding the search pool overseas. The film follows five successful men whose loneliness has pushed them to seek companionship in another country. Several of the men are divorced, while one has never had a serious relationship and another lives in a town with limited options.
The concept of a “mail-order bride” is filled with misconceptions, stereotypes and stigmas. This documentary does not appear to set out with a mandate to prove or disprove them, but rather uncover the truth of this rather misunderstood process. Eric and Bobby fit the preconceived pattern of men who are slightly overweight and awkward, and therefore don’t think it’s possible to meet a woman at home. Conversely, Robert and Ron are attractive in-person and on paper but haven’t been able to find Mrs. Right locally. On the other side of the ocean, some of the women they meet are genuinely interested in starting a family, while others are preying on their aloneness and using them for money.
The film is well-structured, giving an even amount of time to each character as well as allowing for input from the men and women who run the dating websites. After the initial visit to Ukraine, filmmakers follow-up with everyone three and then six months later, finding them in various stages of their relationships and ensuring there are no loose ends for the audience. No emotional attachment is established with the characters, but it’s not necessary to identify with them to appreciate their stories.
Showtimes and ticket information can be found on the festival website.