We Might as Well Laugh

Many people think of documentary films as a way to dive into the world’s problems and come out feeling depressed. Some may even avoid them, preferring the comfort of fictional series that allow them to step out of reality after a long day’s work. But there are many documentary films that, while not shying away from the world’s problems, manage to approach them with humour. So we decided to offer you some respite with a set of documentaries that make us smile.

The level of comedy in these documentaries does vary: while some provoke a complicit and discreet upward turn to the corners of the mouth, others found us bursting into laughter.

The subject of Tungrus, filmmaker Rishi Chandna’s début film, is hilarious in its own right. An Indian family living in an apartment adopt a chick as a household pet. Now an adult, the rooster terrorizes them all.

The humour in A Little Family Conversation is more subtle. Hélène Lapiower, known primarily as an actress, decided to examine her family in all its complexity, depth and contrasts. Its moments of levity often come out in their differences of opinion on Jewish identity.

The comedic moments in Silence radio, from Valéry Rosier, largely stem from the charms of its subjects. We find tenderness in the presenters and listeners of Radio Puisaleine. We’re filled with compassion for their hesitations, grief and solitude. And we’re left grinning at the missteps of the apprentice technicians.

Likewise, it’s the wild charisma of a character that sparks comedy in Stéphane Thibault’s short film Le beau Jacques. We challenge you not to fall under the spell of this Jacques-Villeneuve obsessed aunt and her wild superstitions.

No discussion of comedic documentaries would be complete without the Belgian series Strip-tease, which was very popular in the 80s and 90s and included a good number of hilarious documentaries. The Strip-tease crew documented the official trip of a Belgian parliamentary delegation to North Korea. Tensions between members of the delegation and the discomfort resulting from a Belgian politician’s falling hook, line and sinker for the North Koreans’ staged set-up in Une delegation de très haut niveau left us giggling uncomfortably.

Just because they make us laugh doesn’t mean that these documentaries don’t address real issues in a nuanced way: the reality of informal caregivers, the importance of community life, isolation among the elderly, racism, tensions created by political allegiances or religious beliefs, dictatorship, power struggles… we watch all these different aspects of the world unfold with a smile on our lips, as only author-driven documentaries have the power to do.

Whether through their staging, choice of subjects, direction or editing, these films remind us of the role humour can play in documentaries, both overt and subtle. Whatever form it takes, humour creates a sense of complicity between the director and spectator. Why would we deny ourselves that pleasure?

Christine Chevarie


Curated by Christine Chevarie