Review: Twinsters

This documentary had been part of my Netflix watch list (when I still subscribed to the streaming giant) for quite a while, so by the time I was able to sit down and watch it I was really quite excited. The plot synopsis sounded absolutely fascinating, right up my street, so I was a little surprised that it took me so long to actually get into it.

Twinsters relates the tale of identical twin girls born in Busan, South Korea in 1987. They were separated at birth and placed with different foster mothers from where they were adopted out of the country by different families on opposite sides of the globe.

One of the girls became Samantha Futerman when she was adopted by an American couple with two sons. She was brought up in that country and later became an actress working in Los Angeles.

The second of the pair became Anais Bordier when she was adopted by a childless French couple. She was raised in France and went on to study fashion design in London.

Neither of them or their respective families knew of the others’ existence.

By a twist of fate, and a random video on YouTube Samantha made that was spotted by someone Anais knew, the two girls discover one another, eventually making contact. They  initially message on Facebook, then talk face to face on Skype. No one can deny that they bear a remarkable resemblance to one another as well as sharing other details such as a birth date and country of origin.

They eventually make plans to meet in person and take a DNA test to scientifically prove their relationship to one another. Spoiler: it comes back positive for them being identical twins. They do research with their respective adoption agencies and are told that the unmarried woman believed to be their birth mother denies being such and doesn’t admit to having ever given birth. It’s explained that she is probably not ready to acknowledge what must have been a painful part of her past, and that cultural factors are exerting an influence over her attitude. It’s even postulated that her family may not know of this part of her past. Another spoiler: this is never resolved and there is no fairy tale ending or reunion.

The documentary shows the two girls visiting each each other and their families meeting, seemingly to get on very well together, everyone accepting of each other. They look like a big, albeit complicated, happy family although I do wonder what went on when the camera wasn’t around. Two such disparate group of people must have had some disagreements. The girls eventually visit their birth country (Samantha had been there before) when they decide to attend a conference for Korean adoptees. It’s quite an informative and emotional experience for them.

Our final glimpse of the girls shows them composing a letter to their birth mother, telling her they love her and thanking her for giving them the opportunity at having a better life.

I’m not sure why but I didn’t really connect with the story being told or with Samantha and Anais on an emotional level until they returned to Korea to explore their origins. To me this was the more interesting and human part of the tale. It was them confronting their beginnings, thinking about their birth mother and her story on a deeper level. Through this process they seemed to develop an understanding and acceptance regarding their past. This was helped by the fact that at the conference they spoke to and spent time with other adoptees and came to see that they were not alone in their origins (identical twins part aside). To meet others who shared the same beginnings connected them to wider ‘family’ for the want of a better term. 

They also met and reconnected with their respective foster mothers on the Korea trip which was very moving and prompted a moment of deep reflection on the part of Anais. She related the fact that she felt that she wasn’t in a sense ‘born’ until she arrived in France and began her life there. She always thought that she didn’t start to be loved until the moment that her French Mum and Dad claimed her. But being in Korea, discovering and reconnecting with her very early past showed her that this wasn’t the case. She was valued and treasured from the beginning.

I personally found the parts of the documentary proceeding these later moments to be interesting but not engrossing or affecting. Dare I say it the documentary came across as a bit superficial until they really started speaking about what they felt. On several occasions I found myself wishing to know more of their thoughts and views on the whole experience but was left wanting. Others may get a totally different vibe. 

It’s hard to explain. I have seen plenty of documentaries that have moved me deeply but this one just didn’t. To me, the documentary genre is all about people in different situations in life and how they react, physically, emotionally, spiritually and how they interact with others around them. Documentaries tell the stories of relationships in an honest and passionate way. I didn’t see much of that in Twinsters, and when it did manifest itself, it was only briefly. For me, very much an opportunity missed.

The story was incredible. The story of their story not so much.

On reflection I would say that this is a solid, mostly unemotional, watch.

Rating: Three stars.

Watched: 18 August 2019

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