Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
This challenging documentary tugs at your heartstrings even when its subject inspires ambivalence. Born to a Vietnamese mother and an American soldier father during the Vietnam war, Heidi Neville-Bub was sent out of the country as an infantand adopted by an American woman. Now a wife and mother herself, Heidi wishes to go back to Vietnam to find her birth mother and does so, the two women reuniting for the first time in 22 years. Heidi meets her biological brothers and sisters, a stepfather and the entire community where her family lives, and is overjoyed and overwhelmed at the amount of love she is instantly given, love she says she didn’t feel from her adoptive mother growing up. Then things get tricky when her Vietnamese family start asking Heidi to help them financially, as any person from a first-world country would be expected to do, and Heidi shuts down completely from the pressure. Demanding that a newly found relative give you money seems incredibly rude to an American, but why is it that explaining to her that she is in a different culture with different customs doesn’t seem to mean anything to her? Neville-Bub walks around the city pointing out how weird and strange everything is, as if America is the only thing that’s normal and everything else is ‘other’. No one can blame this one single person for being shocked to suddenly have a bunch of empty, pleading hands shoved in her face, but her reaction to them reeks of such cultural intolerance (she barely bothers to learn two phrases of Vietnamese before arriving) that the experience of watching her is sometimes frustrating. Still, it is a fascinating experience, and directors Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco wisely make no judgments about anyone they’re filming (though as you can see, I have), instead sticking to the facts and letting the participants express themselves their own way.
Academy Award Nomination: Best Documentary Feature