Happy endings in festival movies don’t exists, much less ones for documentaries. Or, for a more nuanced take on this, any ‘happy’ ending to a documentary isn’t totally happy. It can’t negate the pain that its subjects must have let us feel during its run time. The Killing of a Journalist, then, ‘settles’ for the sweet half of a bittersweet first act. It starts with the titular killing of its titular anti-corruption Slovak journalist, Jan Kuciak. This killing led to the resignations of key government officials who had ties with the Italo-Slovak mob. By 2018, it spent twenty years being Slovakia’s de facto power.
The camera capturing archive footage here likes these politicians as they go to desperate lengths. They attempt to gaslight the Slovak public and resort to anti-Semitism during their press conferences. So where can a documentary go after after its bittersweet first act? It spends its second act, then, using the camera to go to the last spaces occupied by Kuciak and his eventual killers. A mafioso like Marian Kocner has henchmen who confess to the killings. And The Killing juxtaposes images with that henchman’s narration. This produces a haunting effect, reminding us of the life that Kuciak can’t enjoy.
The Killing of a Journalist starts with the big picture and eventually makes it smaller and smaller. This is a risky move that pays off. The documentary also successfully argues for that structure. One that accurately reflects how things actually unfolded between 2018 to present day. Taking Kocner away from controlling the government felt like David killing Goliath. That expurgation sheds light on which small time politicians were complicit in destroying the democratic process in Slovakia. It also has its share of interviews of Kuciak’s contemporaries. These interviews shed light on how to maintain long standing justice.
Find out how to watch The Killing of a Journalist through Hot Docs here.