Monday, March 04, 2013

NYICFF ’13: Approved for Adoption

Growing up in a small country divided between French and Flemish speakers in the shadow of the ever arrogant France must make developing a Belgian identity tricky under any circumstances.  For a Korean adoptee like Jung, the coming-of-age process is profoundly more complicated.  Jung (as the artist simply bills himself) adapts his own graphic novel-memoir, incorporating footage of his emotionally ambiguous return to Korea in Approved for Adoption (trailer here), a multi-hyphenated animated genre-hybrid, which screens during the 2013 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Jung never knew his birth parents.  He was discovered by a policeman on the streets of Seoul, presumably abandoned.  It was a common fate for children after the Korean War.  Through the Holt international adoption agency, Jung is placed with a Belgian family.  As he matures, Jung mostly gets along with his four Belgian brothers and sisters, especially his sister and closest confidant, Coralie.  However, his relationship with is mother is a different story.  Frankly, most children would have issues with his severe mother, but his are exacerbated by behavioral problems at school and lingering doubts about his place in the family.

Although Jung is a very humane and forgiving film, it is probably the most mature selection of this year’s NYICFF.  There is even brief animated nudity (breasts clearly discernible beyond mere anime fan service).  It also forthrightly addresses Jung’s family drama and eventual tragedy, which might be troubling for younger viewers.  Yet, for adoptee children, it could be quite consoling—even cathartic.

Approved is visually elegant, rendering its expressive characters in 3D animation, against 2D backdrops, with Jung’s original sketches and Korean video integrated throughout.  Young Jung often tries viewer patience as much as his parents’ but at least we can understand where it is coming from.  Indeed, it is easy to understand how art has served as therapy for him.

To his credit, Jung is unflaggingly honest, never dodging significant episodes that might cast him in an unsympathetic light.  The results are revealing and sometimes beautiful.  Recommended for fully informed families who think their children will find it rewarding, Approved for Adoption screens this Sunday (3/10) at the Alliance Française as part of the 2013 NYICFF.