Built around a subject some would describe as complex at best and insufferable at worst, the documentary Jackie the Wolf is a layered, deeply personal profile piece built around a controversial, sometimes hard to like person who still shows a great deal of compassion and love for those around them.
French end-of-life rights activist Jacqueline Jencquel causes a stir not only with her outspoken belief that assisted suicide be made legal in her country, but also because she has called her own shot. Although there’s nothing fatally wrong with her (light tremors, some latent osteoporosis, depression that she likes to downplay), Jackie has decided she’s going to die in January 2020 at the age of 76. But by the time February 2022 rolls around, Jackie is still alive because she found some reasons to delay her final decision, which remains unwavering.
Jackie the Wolf is directed by Jackie’s son, Tuki Jencquel, and for the first part of the documentary, his subject comes across an abrasive opportunist that’s deeply flawed. Jackie isn’t good with taking criticism, she’s timing her next scheduled appointment with death to coincide with the publication of her new book, and she wants to build a lot of buzz so the whole thing is a huge deal. It’s hard to get on board with Jackie’s quest because her reasons for dying seem to be nothing more than vanity run amok. If Jackie can’t live the high life, she doesn’t want to live it at all. It’s wealthy privilege taken to extreme levels.
But viewers who don’t check out after the first half of Jackie the Wolf will be surprised by what’s in store for the rest of the film. Tuki never presents his mother as a saint, but he does show her softer and more caring side that takes a long time to find, even for those closest to her. Jackie doesn’t want people to fear death, and will often stand side by side with genuinely suffering people who fell they have run out of options. And as Jackie’s resolve strengthens and wavers over time, she uses Tuki’s film not only as a means of solidifying her legacy, but as a chance to honestly and candidly reflect on her life as a mother, wife, lover, and advocate.
Jackie the Wolf is a mixed bag, but it’s supposed to be. Like the woman it’s built around, the film seeks to provoke the viewer to deeper thought. Whether or not that approach is effective entirely depends on the viewer.
Jackie the Wolf will be available to stream across Canada via Hot Docs from May 5th to 9th.
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