Attila documentary

Attila Review: An Upsetting Documentary About a Tragic Situation

Stephen Hosier’s documentary Attila is a frustrating watch—not because of the film’s composition, but because it reveals the shortcomings of Canada’s social welfare system. The feature-length film documents Richard Csanyi’s journey to find closure following his twin brother Attila’s untimely death in 2020.

Hosier, Attila, and Richard grew up together in Lindsay, Ontario, and remained friends into adulthood. Their lives, however, split into different directions: Hosier went to post-secondary school and pursued a career in filmmaking, Richard established a bricklaying business and became a father, and Attila—who had schizophrenia and a history of drug addiction—struggled to secure housing, then died of a fentanyl overdose on a Hamilton rooftop at the age of 28.

Attila is an unconventional documentary in that it approaches the subject matter in a deeply intimate way. There is no unbiased, objective journalism, nor are there experts and statistics to establish a research-based argument. Instead, charming pre-YouTube home videos show the trio as creative, likeable teen boys, acting out Dog the Bounty Hunter, and having a hell of a time in the process. Seeing those laughing, healthy young men, it is so painfully difficult to reconcile that these same people would end up in such a vastly different place two decades later.

Who was Attila Csanyi?

Attila takes the time to flesh out its titular subject. Family members reflect on how bright and funny he was as a young man, with a knack for mischief and a passion for baseball. Hosier does more than just humanize Attila, though. The director pulls back a curtain for the audience to witness grief up close and with frank, sometimes jarring, clarity. Richard is not doing well following his twin’s death. Attila’s friends—who already face the hardships of addiction and homelessness—mourn his passing.  The extended Csanyi family is hurting. No one had the power or resources to help Attila, but it’s obvious they all struggle with survivor’s guilt.

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The system failed Attila. His long-term residence expelled him, and despite claims that he would be transferred to a Salvation Army shelter, Attila never arrived. He was missing for weeks before his body was discovered. For the police, it was a pretty open-and-shut case: a homeless man died from meth that was laced with fentanyl. Case closed.

Richard is left to finish the investigation, following breadcrumbs to piece together his brother’s final days on Earth. Why did he leave the shelter? Who was he with when he overdosed? But the main question, one he will likely never find an answer to, is why did any of this happen?

Attila is Canada at its worst

Richard reflects on his childhood, revealing his traumatic experiences in the foster care system when he and Attila were just six years old. His aunt, who was also placed in foster care, shares her painful memories with Richard over a phone call. Hosier peels back the layers of misfortune, showing the generational trauma underlying the circumstances that led to Attila’s death—and the aftershocks that continue to rock the Csanyi family.

There are many uncomfortable truths on display here: the limitations of the child welfare system, the deadly ramifications when vulnerable people fall through the cracks, and, most tragically, the ways we can become apathetic to those with experience mental health and addiction issues long-term. What’s worse is there’s no simple solution to adequately untangle this mess. There are so many Canadians who don’t have access to housing, and this results in the most vulnerable people—people like Attila—falling between the cracks.

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Sadly, there’s not much Richard can do to come to terms with what happened. There’s no one person to blame, and there’s nothing he can do to prevent such tragedies in the future. All Richard is left with is a story—a deeply personal story of abuse, and neglect, and—underneath all that ugliness—human connection. But by bravely sharing this story, there’s a chance Richard may inspire change; if you can change enough minds about social assistance, safe injection sites, and shelters, maybe we can get more funding for these programs. It’s not a solution, but it could be a start.

Attila is currently available to stream on Crave.



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