Laying a poppy on a grave during Remembrance day leads to murder conspiracies and thoughtful exploration of generational trauma in Jackie Torrens’ Bernie Langille Wants to Know What Happened to Bernie Langille.
Torrens’ latest documentary follows a Nova Scotia man’s quest to learn more about the mysterious death of his grandfather—who he shares a name with. Bernie Langille Wants to Know What Happened to Bernie Langille explores familial tragedy through intimate interviews with the Langille family and exceptional crime scene dioramas that recreate the major locales of the Langilles’ story.
The events of Bernie Langille Wants to Know What Happened to Bernie Langille hit particularly close to home for readers in Fredericton, as most of the film’s events occur in and around CFB Gagetown.
Looking closer at the documentary, most of the film concerns Bernie Langille describing the night his grandfather died. The highlights of this enthralling story include: a late winter trip to CFB Gagetown’s mess, Bernie’s grandmother waking up with her husband in a pool of blood, a military doctor assaulting and threatening the unconscious Bernie senior, and an ambulance hit by a train.
However, Torrens presents more than a sensationalized family tragedy. A pervasive theme in Bernie Langille Wants to Know What Happened to Bernie Langille is intergenerational trauma. This theme is thoughtfully developed in the film’s second half, as Bernie Sr.’s death caused ripples still felt by the Langille family today.
Another striking feature of Bernie Langille is a series of miniature dioramas created and filmed to fill in the gaps between interviews and illustrate the story. In a post-screening Q and A, Torrens explained that she had created a previous project exploring crime scene dioramas for training investigators.
“I was really really taken by the subversive nature of using miniatures in this way.”
In the post screening Q and A at Fredericton’s Silver Wave festival, Torrens revealed that Bernie Langille’s story came to her through a tweet sometime around 2017. Torrens also explained that she deliberately chose Bernie’s story to use with her diorama idea.
“I considered to myself: I would like to tell a story … using miniatures for the reenactments, but I need a surreal, odd, subversive film that would go against how we might expect miniatures to be portrayed.”
Surreal and subversive are certainly adequate descriptions of the Langilles’ story. The enthralling mystery of Bernie’s senior’s death is fleshed out with investigations into a criminally negligent doctor and intimate interviews with a psychologist.
In short, Torrens’ Bernie Langille Wants to Know What Happened to Bernie Langille is deeply engaging from its opening to its credits; there is no questioning why it was chosen as the opening screening for the Silver Wave Film Festival.