With the increasing media coverage of overseas adoption, very little is known about the labyrinthine process of liberating an impoverished child from their country of birth. Images of Angelina Jolie's rainbow family and Madonna's child cover the magazine racks, further proof that we only see the results of years of adoption struggle, while the process of meeting and attempting to actually adopt the child is barely touched upon.
Pietra Brettkelly's The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins is not only an exploration of the international adoption process, but also delves into the nature of art, the Darfur conflict and the inevitable cultural jarring between the western world and Africa.
The titular art star of the film is Vanessa Beecroft, an artist from Italy whose nude tableau and photography has made her work the talk of the European art world. Deciding to do a photo set in the Darfur region, she breast-feeds a set of young twins as part of her artwork. As she nourishes these children, she becomes obsessed with the idea of adopting the pair. The film chronicles her swooning adoration of not only the children, but the culture she finds in Sudan, and the inevitable east-versus-west conflict.
Throughout the film, we see Beecroft's western values clash with the Sudanese people's more conservative Christian beliefs. In the middle of the film, she takes nude shots of the children she is hoping to adopt, their dark and tiny frames on the earthen surface of the orphanage. The caretakers of the orphanage run in, confused and disgusted with these strange white people taking naked photos of the children. While Beecroft tries hard to get them to understand and let them just take the photos, the Sudanese orphanage workers start to scream at Beecroft's native translator about how he's become more like the white people.
When Beecroft meets with a magistrate who is in charge of adoption further on in the film, he exposes his own worries about these kinds of adoption. His apprehension based on cultural and economic reasons--since these twins won't grow up in Sudan, they will not know their rich culture and history. He also voices concerns about how each child removed from Sudan is, "one less soldier, one less doctor" for the country.
While Beecroft's brutal experience with the adoption is the main focus of the film, it also touches on the artist's life and her experience. It's not a major plot line, but it does show an interesting aspect to cutting-edge creative thought through self-reflective moments.
Not surprising for a movie about an artist, the cinematography is visually stunning. From the dusty, parched deserts to the withered, vein-lined breasts of the Sudanese mothers trying to breast-feed their children--a stark contrast with Beecroft's own breasts--the theme of utter destitution in Sudan is apparent. Beecroft's time in Sudan wears on her body as well. Her lily-white skin becomes deeply freckled as her eyes begin to sink into her head. The visual degradation reflects the experience of living amongst the poverty of Darfur.
The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, like every documentary about Darfur, isn't a happy-go-lucky experience. It shows the teeth-grinding hell of foreign adoption, the effects of the Darfur crisis on the Sudanese people and the abject poverty that each of the Africans face. It is a refreshing turn from the gleeful pictures in the supermarket rags of Angelina Jolie's beautiful children, instead showing the children's harsh living conditions and the adoption process itself.
the film is the last of the 2007-2008 Movies That Matter series and runs at the Epcor Centre's Engineered Air Theatre on June 9 at 7 p.m.