Family Portrait in Black and White | Movie review
Racial bigotry is just one challenge faced by a Ukrainian foster mother and her full house of orphans.
A doc as shaggy and chaotic as the family it chronicles, Julia Ivanova’s film plants itself in the crowded Ukrainian home of Olga Nenya, a large über-foster-mom who harbors more than 20 children at any given point. In addition to sheer volume, Nenya adopts the crucible of biraciality—16 of her kids are the orphaned offspring of visiting African students, and in Ukraine, still a bustling home for jackbooted skinhead gangs and neo-Nazi marches, that gives her ramshackle suburban farmhouse a circled-wagon vibe.
Still, the kids grow up and want out, mostly to Italy, just as the traditional Soviet-trained Olga wants to keep them home. And so Ivanova is all over the place trying to limn the titular portrait out of several dozen competing perspectives and belief systems. Empty-nest phobia, learning disabilities that are just behavioral issues, juvenile acting-out, never-ending racial slurs from the neighbors—there’s no respite from pressure, and though Olga is a stern and serene matriarch, Ivanova draws no conclusions about her. Or about anything, really, except bigotry, which is often a secondary issue for these kids, whose titanic mother is both their salvation and their cross to bear. Ukraine itself comes off less well, with its crumbling infrastructure and indulged supremacist spectacle.