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Review: ‘A Better Man’ is one of Hot Docs’ most stirring films (Includes first-hand account)

At any given moment, approximately one-third of the women in a room will have experienced some form of abuse or trauma. This is a societal issue that does not appear to be going away and and in a culture that still asks what she did to cause it, self-blame and shame come part and parcel with the physical and/or emotional scars. But there are multiple avenues of support now and many opportunities to heal, though one never really forgets. In A Better Man, more than 20 years after ending their abusive relationship, a couple is reunited to process all that occurred between them.

Attiya was 17 and Steve was 18 when they met, and later moved in together. Over the course of their two-year relationship, Steve physically abused her daily to the point that Attiya was convinced he would one day killer her. Now, 23 years later, he’s agreed to meet her to talk about what happened. With the guidance of an abuse counsellor, they are able to discuss this period in a manner that is both honest and illuminating for both of them. Even though their memories of the same incidents frequently differ, their willingness to hear each other in an effort to heal and achieve restorative justice is inspiring if not unique.

Attiya exhibits incredible strength when recounting the abuse, but they’re both unbelievably brave not only to participate in this process but to record it for an audience. While this is one more step in the healing process for Attiya, she is shown to have built a loving and fulfilling life surrounded by family and friends before reaching out to Steve; conversely, little is known about his life after their break-up and he is understandably reluctant to talk specifically about the potential root causes of his anger. Even though it can be difficult to hear their descriptions of the physical violence, their equal readiness to confront what happened is amazing; whereas the revelations of who may have known but didn’t intervene provides a new level of heartbreak. In the end, although this may be an exceptional situation, the film still achieves its goal of demonstrating the value of and encouraging people to seek help when dealing with similar issues, past or present.

The world premiere of A Better Man is screening as part of the “Canadian Spectrum” program at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

Directors: Lawrence Jackman and Attiya Khan

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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