Sunday, 8 September 2013

THE DARK MATTER OF LOVE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF 2013 - Sub-Par Adoption Doc is Strictly Dr. Phil

The Dark Matter of Love (2012) *
Dir. Sarah McCarthy

Review By Greg Klymkiw

I will admit upfront I had a slightly personal bias here that kept me from responding to this tale of love and bonding between three Russian orphans (among the last to be allowed adoptive parents from outside Russia) and their new Apple Pie American family. Having spent a considerable amount of time in Ukraine’s orphanages, I remember meeting a variety of potential parents from all over the world and while this might betray my own prejudices with respect to America, I’ll always remember feeling an overwhelming sense of pity for the Ukrainian children destined for America rather than France, Italy, UK, Switzerland, Germany and, of course, Canada.

For me, it all boiled down to values - the seemingly gluttonous consumerist “free-market” American variety, as opposed to a highly cultured, literate and far more liberal approach to the world. Again, this was merely a personal observation during a pre-9/11 time frame, but as I watched The Dark Matter of Love within it’s contemporary post-9/11 context, it was a weirdly prophetic viewing experience.

Seeing these Russian kids flung into an America that had spun the world into a major financial crisis and various wars since those more “innocent” times, an America that seemingly learned nothing from the chaos created by its political and corporate leaders and worst of all, that sense of gaudy consumerism I recognized so many years ago coming to life on-screen before my very eyes - all conspired to make me wonder what that movie would have been like to see instead of this one - which, sadly, is not very good.

It is ultimately supposed to be a story about three kids who have lived in the hell of Russia’s orphanages (perhaps even more grotesque than the Ukrainian institutions) and who need love, even want love, but have never experienced love. How do you give love to a child that doesn’t know what love is?

Well, it’s not rocket science - with great difficulty and patience.

The American family in question are clearly fine and generous people with plenty of love to give. One can even understand when we see their frustration at not getting love back, or the jealousy experienced by their biological daughter over all the attention given over to the Russian kids and the overall turmoil the building of this new family unit results in. This is potentially harrowing stuff, but is frankly undermined by the application of certain psychological principles that are rooted in the film’s title - that love is a matter of science and in extreme situations such as this, one must turn to medical professionals.

From a strictly moral standpoint, I had problems swallowing this - for my liking it’s all too typically Dr. Phil (the famous reality TV talk-show shrink who presents a hugely rated barrage of suffering Americans and offers all manner of platitudinous pop-psychology to ease the pain). Worse yet, the film emphasizes the gobbledegook of a duo of scientists and trains its camera on them as they watch footage of the family trying to cope - spewing their babble as if they were bloody sports commentators and that the emotional gymnastics of the family was a particularly strenuous football match.

The film never really allows us an opportunity to experience what could have been a very moving document - children who have never known love and their relationship with a family that knows love all too well and wants to give it. There is, or was, a great movie in here and it could have been one of several movies far more engaging and vital than this one proved to be.

"Dark Matter of Love" is in the TIFF DOCS series at the Toronto International Film Festival 2013. Visit the TIFF website HERE.