(Hungary, 75 min)
Dir. Asia Dér and Sári Haragonics
Program: Persister (World Premiere)
This portrait of a lesbian couple adopting a child is intimate and raw. On the surface, it’s about two women going through an adoption process and acclimatizing to their new roles as mothers, and the conflicts between the couple that go with it, but there are political elements that give this documentary depth and texture.
The film opens with Virag and rock musician Nora at their kitchen table hand-crafting a booklet they’re hoping to give to their not yet adopted child; it then cuts to a pro-democracy demonstration where the two originally met. The stage is set: this is a loving, politically progressive and active couple now on a mission to parent.
Directors Dér and Haragonics deftly weave these two strands into the first section of the film, which tracks the adoption process. It is illegal for a lesbian couple to adopt in Hungary, but single women do have the right and so Nora and Virag have each applied separately. Anxiety is there already as bureaucrats have lost track of their files. But time is even more of an issue as right wingers in an increasingly authoritarian government are pressing to remove the loophole that allows lesbians to insert themselves into the adoption process.
Ultimately, Meli, a Roma two-year-old, comes into their lives and changes them dramatically. Caregiving is not easy, given Meli’s troubled past and Nora has difficulty establishing her role. Virag is a stay-at-home mom and Meli has bonded more closely with her, often rejecting Nora. This is an element of the film that many lesbians who parent – including myself (it was a theme of my play A Fertile Imagination) – can easily relate to. What’s interesting here is that, even without a birth mother at play, this becomes an issue. And the camera is right there as they deal with it.
So intense is the right-wing swing in Hungary that Virag and Nora consider leaving for another country, adding more tension to an already fraught situation.
The filmmakers and their camera stay relentlessly close to the action and, because Nora especially is open and honest – her meltdown sequence is heartbreaking – the film has enormous emotional resonance.
I had to do some searching to discover that Virag was a retired Green politician, something I wish I’d known while watching the film. But, bonus: several scenes feature Nora and her band Pamu (whose gigs keep her out late at night) and the band is really good.
Her Mothers screens at Hot Docs’ online festival beginning May 28.