Love Child

 

starstarstarstarstar

 


An outstanding documentary featuring three deeply sympathetic people.

 
Love Child

  

Back in 2017 I praised Ai Weiwei's deeply humane documentary Human Flow for its wide-ranging study of the plight of refugees. With their situation remaining a matter of current concern, it is no surprise that other films on the subject have appeared since then and they have made it clear that a very different and more intimate approach can be just as powerful. There was a pointer to that earlier this year when we saw Hassan Fazili's Midnight Traveler in which he filmed the experiences of his own family as they fled from Afghanistan seeking political asylum. Now we have a work similar to that one in character in that it focuses on one family and was similarly shot over a substantial period of time. With Love Child the main director is Eva Mulvad and the film which she has created ranks with the very best that have dealt with this subject.

 

Love Child starts in Tehran in 2012. It was then that the two central figures here, Sahand and Leila, decided that they had to leave Iran if they were to survive and set up a proper home for themselves and their four-year-old son, Mani. Leila was a teacher who at that time was still trapped in a meaningless marriage to a man who took drugs and abused her and who had not even consummated their marriage. Nevertheless, when Leila became the mother of an illegitimate child she faced death by stoning if the facts ever became known (they had been hushed up even to the extent of Mani not knowing that Uncle Sahand was actually his father). As for Sahand, there was no question but that he wanted to marry Leila once her divorce was through and the risks being so great he recommended that the three of them should take a plane to Istanbul and then apply to the U.N. That application would be necessary for them to be recognised as a family justifiably seeking asylum in whatever country would be willing to take them, quite possibly America.

 

Love Child goes on to show how on arrival in Turkey what had sounded straightforward would drag on for years, their case being caught up in bureaucracy and complicated so far as Sahand was concerned by political issues which were also involved. Indeed, when the film ends in 2018 the situation has still not been fully resolved and the tale that has been told reveals Sahand, Leila and Mani to be such nice people that the hearts of viewers will go out to them. Because of that there are scenes that are quite uncomfortable to watch since, quite rightly, Mulvad does not conceal moments when the tensions they are experiencing lead to the couple bickering and also does not hide Mani's initial distress when he learns for the first time that Sahand is actually his father.

 

Since it lasts nearly two hours this well-edited film is on the long side for a documentary, but the time taken allows us to see not just the real-life drama in which these refugees are caught up but the details of their everyday life (Sahand buying a bike, both parents attending a school show to see Mani on stage). By including such scenes, the film causes us to share the lives of these people in a way that makes us feel that we really know them. It helps too, in the absence of a commentary, that Mulvad includes episodes in which both Sahand and Leila in turn talk to a psychiatrist and what is said includes additional information about their background stories. Inevitably the tale told in this film is a sad one, both on a personal level and as a reflection of so many comparable situations. However, the personalities of all three protagonists are so engaging that, in spite of everything, watching Love Child is a life-affirming experience.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Sahand, Leila, Mani, Ebru Salcioglu, Halil Dönmez.

 

Dir Eva Mulvad with Lea Glob and Morten Ranmar, Pro Sidsel Lønvig Siersted, Screenplay Eva Mulvad, from an idea by Henrik Grunnet and Morten Ranmar, Ph Lea Glob, Eva Mulvad, Morten Ranmar and others, Ed Adam Nielsen, Music Jakob Bro, Thomas Knak, Anders Remmer and Jesper Skaaning.

 

APS/Danish Documentary Production/Grunnet Film-Republic Film Distribution.
112 mins. Denmark. 2019. Rel: 6 November 2020. A virtual theatrical release. Cert. 15.