A weeping man frantically packs a suitcase, saying in Farsi, “I not sure tomorrow I will be dead or alive”. We then cut to his euphoric arrival in Turkey, where he is now accompanied by a woman and a young boy, all three claiming asylum. Following various long-form interviews with these people, it remains unclear who, or what, they are running from until the woman, Leila, then grimly lays out their back story.
Eva Mulvad’s Love Child is a documentary which attempts to chronicle this strange situation. Trapped in a violently abusive marriage in Iran, Leila fell in love with Sahand, and their son Mani was born of the affair. Her abusive husband assumed paternity but became increasingly hostile and so she had to flee with her son and lover.
The punishment for adultery in Iran is public execution so there is no prospect of return. Sahand is acutely aware of the stakes, having seen a woman publicly stoned to death. His eyes glaze over as he recollects the horrors he witnessed, “I saw a woman being stoned. That was the most violent of all. It’s not like watching a movie. I watched her die right in front of me”.
The film follows the trio from 2012 to 2018, as they settle in Turkey and hope to get to America. Mani is a sweet but troubled child, not only uprooted but also coming to terms with his “uncle” now being his father. Over the years he flourishes alongside his loving parents, who restart their careers and build connections, but the spectre of being sent back puts a strain on their happy family.
Moments of joy are interspersed with troughs of guilt and survivor’s remorse. Mulvad never lets us forget what is at stake. In many respects this is a conventional documentary, structured chronologically with interviews at regular intervals which provide background detail, but the captivating subjects make for gripping viewing. It is a heartbreaking look at lives endangered by the cruel bureaucracy of the refugee crisis.
A great reception from its festival run but will this just be revelling in the misfortune of others? 3
This is moving. I am moved. 4
A compelling story with tragic relevance for our time. 4
Sahand, Leila, Mani
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