Matchmaking Mayor: The Heart Can't Be Commanded: Berlin Review

Hnikova’s documentary has audiences laughing throughout, though thankfully with and not at her subjects.

Erika Hnikova's documentary about a mayor's idea to hold a matchmaking dance for his village's singles seems ludicrous if it were a fictional film, but the subjects are a documentarian's dream.

Offline dating is alive if not entirely well in the dying Slovak village of Zemplinske Hamre, whose mayoa r has taken it upon himself to marry off the town’s 70-odd bachelors and bachelorettes. Were award-winning director Erika Hnikova’s entertaining Matchmaking Mayor (subtitled The Heart Can’t Be Commanded) a fiction film, it would seem ludicrous or cloying, meaning its subjects are a documentarian’s dream.

Although it has audiences chuckling consistently throughout its 72 minutes, even the most spirited documentaries have little place to go outside the festival circuit. But given the original and charismatic subjects, it’s probably only a matter of time before someone turns it into a narrative film. 

Mayor Jozef Gajdos has lowered unemployment, brought in satellite TV and built new sports centers. He’s loved by his constituents, whom he addresses in daily PA announcements heard throughout town on strategically placed loudspeakers. But he has a terrible thorn in his side: the single women and men who refuse to follow secular and religious “family law,” marry, make babies and save Earth from human extinction. 

The film follows Gajdos as he organizes his biggest matchmaking idea to date: a summer dance for the most eligible singles of Zemplinske Hamre and neighboring towns. It also follows three of its attendees: Dodo, who has just completed a house for his future bride, whoever she may be; the mechanic Janko, who loves cars more than people; and the religious Monika, who shares a bedroom with her mother. 

Hnikova crafts her documentary like a classic drama, and has us wishing for happy endings by the time she’s halfway through. More important, she portrays ridiculous situations with the kind of sensibility that has us laughing with the subjects, not at them. No small feat given the embarrassing lengths the mayor and his trusty social director Dana go to to pull off their bash, which features little old ladies singing love songs in folk dress and a raffle with prizes such as chewing gum, “just in case the couples get lucky.” 

What Gajdos really thinks of his town’s single women comes at the end, and is more chilling than misguided. 

The video quality of Matchmaking Mayor could have been higher, but Hnikova and Petr Soltys avoid repetition and make up for some rough-around-the-edges material with creative editing, like using the ambient noise of clicking tocks and snoring over static images. 

The almost nonexistent score features a great music box rendition of “Que Sera Sera.” 

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum)
Sales company: OutCome
Production company: endorfilm
Co-production companies: Czech Television (CT), Un Film, Slovak Television (STV)
Director: Erika Hnikova
Screenwriter: Erika Hnikova
Producer: Jiri Koneckny
Director of photography: Jiri Strnad
Editor: Petr Soltys
No rating, 72 minutes