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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

An adoption documentary like no other

8/10
Author: janos451 from San Francisco
26 May 2010

There is an abundance of great films about a child lost in an alien culture, emblematic of the universal stranger-in-a-strange-land syndrome, to the tune of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." From "The Wizard of Oz" to "Live and Become," survival in a different, potentially hostile, world has been a meaningful subject.

The latest addition to the genre, Stephanie Wang-Breal's brilliant "Wo ai ni (I love you) Mommy" is a documentary about an American adoption from China. It is more compelling and memorable than many a feature film.

The world premiere screening was at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, on Sunday, March 14, with the the director in attendance. If the film's main subject came along, you would have seen a "normal 11-year-old American" called Faith.

At the opening of the film, it's a very different situation: Faith is an eight-year old orphan, with a clubfoot, in Guangzhou, her name is Fang Sui Yong. Bewildered and petrified, she is facing a strange woman who came all the way from Long Island to adopt her and take her "home." The American, almost as stressed as the young girl, is Donna Sadowsky.

She is Jewish, mother of two boys, and she and her husband have already adopted a Chinese girl when she was 14 months old.

After a long and arduous process, a long, emotion-filled journey, Donna is now meeting Sui Yong, an adoptee much older than the average of 70,000 Chinese children - mostly babies or toddlers - adopted by Americans. Donna disregards custom and statistics: this is to be her daughter.

For the girl, a veteran of orphanages and a Chinese foster family, this first meeting with what she identifies as a "white person" is traumatic, and in the audience feelings range from censure of what's happening to fervent hope that the Chinese orphan and the American do-gooder ride off into a blissful life. What follows is a fascinating journey, unexpected turns and developments, all with documentary veracity but with the sense of a great novel.

It's amazing that a young, first-time director would capture both the reality and the truth of the encounter of people, the clash of cultures.

It's reminiscent of another young director's work, Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation," except that much is found in "Wo ai ni Mommy," instead of being lost.

Wang-Breal's years'-long preparation, the mutual trust built with her subjects, persistent integrity, and a clear sense of what is the essence of the story serve her well, even when a lesser director would shout "Cut!" In a memorable scene, Faith is on Skype with her former foster parents in China, and by now she speaks only English, "forgets" her Chinese, and says "we are Jewish." Against coughs, sound and lighting problems, Wang-Breal keeps the camera rolling, and it's all to the good.

Unlike flashy, popular feature films left behind along with the empty popcorn container, "Wo ai ni Mommy" - its people, their interactions and relationships, the culture clash and reaching across distances and differences, and partial resolution of conflicts, if not a sugary happy ending - will stay with you, and you'll be the richer for it.

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