David Cuevas takes a look at Rebel Hearts as part of Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
The late 1960s was a rather radical time to be alive. Nixon, Vietnam, Woodstock, the Manson murders, hippy culture and even a bit of retaliation against post-war patriarchy. In Pedro Kos’ wildly entertaining and jam-packed Rebel Hearts, the film follows the history and legacy of The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart; a religious group of nuns that dared to challenge traditional vows and other modes of service within the Catholic Church institution. Highlighting the various trials and tribulations of this fascinating era, Kos’ high-octane direction and pace consistently delivers with frequent insight.
Rebel Hearts’ greatest strengths are the candid interviews of each of the nuns and the following transitionary B-Roll. With some of the interviews being archival, whilst others being recently documented; the intertwining of timely footage is seamless, alongside the film’s colourful transitional animation work. The animation and simplistic design add visual flavour and splendour to Kos’ rather conventional documentary approach. Without the aforementioned clever integration of minimalist B-Roll, Rebel Hearts could have easily fallen down the rabbit hole, with the over-utilisation of the talking head technique. It also helps that the animation design layouts aesthetically match the artwork of one of the interviewed sisters. Corita’s Kent’s work is a primary focus within Rebel Hearts, and Kos’ integration of motion graphics is a clever ode to the aforementioned late artist.
On a structural basis however, Kos falls for an overstuffed narrative. Sometimes interesting information doesn’t equal essential storytelling. For example, the historical background context behind The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart that detailed minor key information from 1940-1960, was simply stretched out for the mere sake of padding additional information. In a segment that could have easily been said and done in a mere two minutes, Kos frequently insists the viewer to sit through needless context. The same applies to the film’s finale, where there were multiple points where an appropriate ending/cut to credits could have enhanced the satisfaction of a warmhearted conclusion.
But nothing can stop the sisters of the Immaculate Heart; not even an occasionally plodding documentary feature. Within 100 minutes, Rebel Hearts manages to compile decades worth of history with a great amount of emotional poignancy and punch. Even with its occasional shortcomings on a structural scale, Kos’ intent is still clear and concise from the get-go. Rebel Hearts is ultimately a film detailing a time of political and religious uprising; a fascinating tribute about the persistence of the human soul and its clash with outdated institutions that continuously oppress those who want to create a safer and more progressive society.
Rebel Hearts premiered in the Special Presentations program as part of this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. The film is currently seeking international distribution.