Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘The Hypnotist’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2019, Movies by - May 05, 2019
Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘The Hypnotist’

Arthur Franck’s The Hypnotist is a film as slippery as its subject, Olavi Hakasalo – better known as Olliver Hawk. As Finland’s most famous hypnotist, Hawk became a superstar in his country and abroad, introducing hypnotherapy to the masses as a legitimate medical therapy. But as he peaked internationally, his showmanship and penchant for oddball behaviour eventually derailed his career, miring him in scandals and lawsuits.

Not much is really known about who the real Olliver Hawk or Olavi Hakasalo really was but Franck nonetheless tries to get a handle on him, eventually approaching this enigmatic figure through another Finnish icon, former President Urho Kekkonen. Kekkonen ruled Finland for 25 years, with his boundless charisma making sure the people continued to vote him in. But was it just popularity that kept the autocrat in power? Or did Olliver Hawk himself lend some assistance behind the scenes?

These outlandish rumours take center stage and Franck probes them in increasingly tantalizing ways, mixing different film stocks, sound clips and archival footage until we’re not totally sure what’s supposed to be the truth anymore. It’s almost as it the film itself is hypnotizing us, which can sometimes try your patience with its vagueness, but is still a mostly fascinating technique.

Regardless of what is fact or fiction in this story, Franck makes some illuminating connections to the populism in modern politics and how Hawk and President Kekkonen occupied two sides of the same coin. He also succeeds in effectively pulling the rug out from under us at the end, leaving things on a perplexingly poignant note.

We may not ever know who Olliver Hawk was but sometimes the mystery is all you need.

Also screening beforehand is the impressive French-Canadian short Nyctophobia, an audiovisual feast that recalls the stylistics of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi.

  • Release Date: 4/27/2019
This post was written by
After his childhood dream of playing for the Mighty Ducks fell through, Mark turned his focus to the glitz and glamour of the movies. He's covered the extensive Toronto film scene for online outlets and is a filmmaker himself, currently putting the final touches on a low-budget (okay, no-budget) short film to be released in the near future. You can also find him behind the counter as product manager of Toronto's venerable film institution, Bay Street Video.
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