Streaming Review

Love Child review – essential chronicle of the refugee crisis

Eva Mulvad and Lea Glob's life-affirming documentary about an Iranian family drowning in bureaucracy is one of the year's best

Six years is a long time to wait for somewhere to call home. Danish director Eva Mulvad and co-director Lea Glob's documentary feature Love Child is a remarkable chronicle of three people confined to an endless limbo, whose existence is defined by a sense of chronic displacement. It's an enlightening – and surprisingly gripping – portrait of the refugee crisis that shows how convoluted bureaucratic systems prevent the affected from moving on with their lives.

Love Child finds its immensely likeable subjects in Sahand and Leila, who jump a plane from their native Iran to neighbouring Istanbul, Turkey, where they hope to be granted asylum and then sent abroad to Canada or America. The couple were forced to flee after Leila left an abusive husband for Sahand and the subsequent affair resulted in the birth of their son, Mani. It's an act punishable by death in Iran, though, and so the couple live in fear of the authorities catching up with them.

Sahand and Leila are both educated and intelligent people. Leila was a university lecturer back home. Sahand is resourceful and well-read, citing favourites by Dostoevsky, Salman Rushdie, and Hermann Hesse – authors whose work, he claims, made him uncomfortable in his position as an informer for Iran's secret police. Having been strong-armed into the role, it's this aspect of his history that complicates matters further as the family navigate a tetchy correspondence with the UN's refugee program.

The trio gratefully move into a surprisingly spacious and clean apartment overlooking a field, a mosque, some rundown buildings. But it’s so far off the beaten track that even the postman complains about having to deliver their mail there. After a period of unemployment, Sahand and Leila find work as teachers, Mulvad's camera miraculously capturing the highs and lows over a period that stretches on for six years: birthday parties, days out to the city, the gift of a new bike, but also the arguments and tension that come with living your life in a state of uncertainty. Every moment of joy is coloured by an anxiousness over the family being separated by external forces that won't recognise them as a proper family.

Waiting, waiting, waiting: Sahand relentlessly opens his laptop to check the case status, hoping to see that it's been updated. Soon, an important question presents itself: is it possible to live your life when you feel like you’re waiting for it to begin? At what point does a situation like this just become your actual life? When do you commit to living the limbo? “There is a huge emptiness in me,” Leila tells her therapist during one of their many emotional encounters. The word that haunts her most is “stateless.” She can’t understand how any person can be deemed as such in a world as big as this one.

So the years go by – countless haircuts, weight lost and weight gained, Mani growing up before our very eyes. What stays the same is the unbreakable bond of this family unit, who – in spite of the occasional internal conflict – find a way to inhabit an unthinkable situation with a huge amount of dignity. This is no miserablist account, nor does it ever tip over into sentimentalism. The endless redrafting of paperwork and attempts to find the right documentation are juxtaposed with beautifully human moments: an impromptu wedding; a declaration of love from an elderly Turkish neighbour.

To reveal how it all ends would betray the inherent tension of the piece, though Donald Trump's rise to presidency – and his ban on Middle Eastern immigrants entering the country – throws further doubt on the family's plan to move to America. Yet through these scenes of the everyday comes a crucial, life-affirming testament to the human spirit. This is a truly moving film about the modern day refugee crisis that is as humbling as it is essential.

Love Child is now showing on Curzon Home Cinema.

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