The easiest thing to do is to inform. What Monster Jimenez does in Kano: An American and His Harem may be the hardest thing to accomplish. She first informs, of the life of Victor Pearson, an American war veteran who relocates to the Philippines and establishes a household that is composed of him and several wives and paramours, of the criminal suit for rape, of his eventual image as sexual deviant and monster. Jimenez then opens a window for Pearson, who has been adjudged by all who knew him solely as a character in the newspaper headlines as an indefatigable pervert, to prove his humanity, and opens a bigger window for Pearson to display his undeniable charms and wit.
Pearson looks like a thoroughly unkempt Harvey Keitel and talks like a reflective but drunken Edward G. Robinson. He is an inevitable screen personality. His backstory, with the possible barrage of psychological torture from a hinted torturous childhood and Vietnam War experiences, could have been a Kubrick thriller. His present story, as embattled villain in a legal battle against all odds, could have been a clever Lumet court drama.
His harem, on the other hand, is composed of an eclectic mix of looks and ages. Probably the only uniting factor for the women is poverty, which leads supposedly to their attachment and dependence on Pearson's sizable veteran's pension. However, to simply regard their intertwined relationships as primarily economic is to disregard the complexity of human nature. Jimenez explores not only the cycle of financial dependency but also the continuously evolving emotions, no matter how misplaced, mutated and immoral they seem to be. She treats the relationships between Pearson and his women and among the women with light-hearted sensitivity, with a careful but delicious mix of humor and seriousness.
Kano: An American and His Harem is ostensibly about the most curious of domestic arrangements, where one man plays benefactor, lover, victimizer, and a whole lot of other roles to the women who are voluntarily or involuntarily under his wing. Yet, the documentary also pushes perception despite the norms and moral boundaries that have set in place how we normally perceive what is human and what is not. Pearson, through Jimenez's peerless and very involved investigation, has become the perfect example of the most misunderstood man, considering that his much-publicized and now legendary devious acts are too glaring to gloss over. And despite the initial disgust, the momentary fascination, and the lingering intrigue with Pearson, he becomes familiar, perhaps overly familiar to the point of discomfort.
Yet, Jimenez does not flinch. In fact, she confronts Pearson with only some apprehension, maybe some suspicion too, but never with disdain or an already made-up objective as to how the documentary will move. Instead, the documentary takes a life of its own, rollercoasting on emotions ranging from anger to amusement, and frustration to delight. It moves seemingly without direction because the director itself is moved by her subject, gravitating only to the business of exhibiting Pearson's life and dilemma. As willing companions of Jimenez in her creatively crafted and deliciously enjoyable attempt to simplify the complexities of Pearson and his women's unique situation, it is best to enter Kano: An American and His Harem with an open mind, totally unresisting of the probable charms of Pearson and his bountiful love.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)