Saturday, April 9, 2011

Are You My Mother?

Ask a film critic to choose a film for a film festival and you're bound to get something interesting.

Ask critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and he'll choose what he considers one of the greatest films he's ever reviewed.

The James River Film Festival's morning offering was "Mix Up ou Meli-Melo," a French-made documentary about two English babies who were swapped at birth and raised by the wrong families.

The truth didn't come out until the girls were 20.

I suppose it was the bizarre nature of the film that drew a lot of people out to the VMFA theater at 10:30 on a Saturday morning.

Or maybe documentary lovers can do without a weekend sleep-in (nah, as I can attest, that can't be it).

Director Francoise Romand uses the two women as well as their surviving parents (one father had died) and siblings to share their memories of events.

One mother had sensed from the beginning that her daughter was not her own, but the other wanted no part of such thoughts.

They were an interesting contrast in motherhood; the one who refused to consider the possibility of a mix-up loved her daughter unconditionally, but the better educated mother who suspected the truth was never able to love or treat the daughter she got the same as her other children.

And, of course, children sense these things.

The film, made in 1985, was Romand's first and as such, a remarkable piece of documentary film making.

As the women involved talked about their feelings and memories of events, their deepest issues were revealed.

One had always felt that she belonged in a large family (like her biological one) and one always felt like she had the wrong physical features to be in the family she was raised in.

It was like watching time-lapse psycho-analysis of two understandably-scarred people.

Like any good documentary, there were no pat Hollywood happy endings.

How could there be?

Lives had been irrevocably altered by circumstance, something that happens to all of us.

Credit goes to Romand for making the film while almost all of the parties were still alive and able to tell their sides of it, heartbreaking as they were.

The bad '80s clothing and hairstyles were an unintended comic bonus.

Further credit goes to Jonathan Rosenbaum for choosing this little-known gem for Richmond to see.

I need to investigate this guy's must-see film list.

And extra credit goes to the James River Film Festival for eighteen years of presenting film lovers with  the obscure, the important and the offbeat.

I don't get up early for just anybody on a Saturday morning.

No regrets, JRFF.

And a special thanks goes to the man about town, who got down on one knee, kissed my hand and complimented my brightness on this gun-metal gray day.

That, too, was worth getting up for.

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