HotDocs review: The Mirror [2010, David Christensen]

Toronto – “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the ugliest of them all?” Of the seven deadly sins, only sloth, lust and gluttony need not apply to a small town mayor who wants to build a mirror to reflect sunshine into his town square. So I’d say this magic mirror has shown that he’s the ugliest of them all.

Not that the railwayman (train engineer) is a bad person. The events of this film just doens’t reflect very well on him (OK no more puns, I promise). The small town of Viganella doesn’t have much tourism, it is dwindling in size, and there isn’t much that stirs the residents. That may have been the original reason to mount such a publicity stunt. As Christensen noticed in the Q&A however, the valley tends to harbour mayors with vanity projects. What is one to do after coming up with an idea like this? Well, you get an architect, not an engineer. One that doesn’t understand the basic principles of Newtonian mechanics, nor commonsense, is preferable. Otherwise you won’t have a very engaging documentary. And you need someone to lay the ground works before marching in the mirror. What about some German Buddhists? Brilliant. They endure hardships and require no more than prayer and mental peace. And for publicity? How about everyone? Let’s gather delegates from Spain, Mexico, Japan, local and international (Al Jazzeera, would you believe it?) reporters. We’ll mobilize the entire town to put on a parade 5 minutes before the Sunday mass finishes.

The scene at the valley really isn’t as bizarre as I have described. In fact, the film highlights the cooperation between valley neighbours Viganella, Bordo (the Tibetan Buddhist settlement), and Cheggio (an abandoned ghost town with few residents). The project, and not its culmination in a press frenzy, actually rallied the residents. Even though each has their own opinion on the mirror, a better sense of community is established as a result of the exercise. The Mirror is an evenhanded portrait of the valley, and quietly contemplative at times. Christensen did put a bit more social emphasis on the clash between Germans and Italians. But I think that’s a fair decision given that the tension was inherent, and not in the presentation style of the film. As to the mirror itself, it broke once during mounting, 2nd time at the inauguration, and became something of a non-issue after the fanfare. It wasn’t an architectural wonder anyways – just a very mundane flat steel construction that resembles a reflective billboard. It was quite surprising, though, that all of the soundtrack in the film was from residents of the valley. Accordion, electric and acoustic guitars, indian and steel drums. They and Susan Boyle remind you the talents that are hiding out there waiting for an opportunity. The mayor’s next project is: “building a cafe beneath the mirror”. Sounds like more self-serving public service. The mirror costed EU$100,000, or $500 for each of the 200 residents. Expect more outlandish spending. I wonder what the construction crew will forget to account this time; maybe how many cows they will need to fly-in to make whipped cream.

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews