Human Rights Film Festival: Family Portrait in Black and White
Olga Nenya lives in a small village in rural Ukraine where she fosters 17 children, 16 of which are of mixed ethnicity. In Ukraine, where the population is nearly entirely Caucasian, the discrimination placed upon these children is undeniable and comes directly from the drunken neighbour’s puerile comments or the looming racial violence of the nationalist movement in Kiev. In Family Portrait in Black and White, we follow the life of Olga and her brood as they deal with the adolescent growing pains and parental clashes, along with the more exclusive encounters of their unique circumstances.
Olga is a truly remarkable character, an embodiment of communist methodology in which archaic ideals of communal progression rather than individual development, control the structure and direction of the family. Yet Olga also displays a progressive attitude towards race, refusing to see skin colour as the barrier many sadly do. Her ambition is for the foster children to have grown up under the wing of a loving mother. Although honourable in intention, it is also strictly determined by her own moral conduct, resulting in favouritism for some of the less able children and a growing friction with a number of the teenagers. This is most noticeable with Kiril, an intelligent and academic young man whose desire to go to university is constantly knocked back by Olga’s frankness.
The result of Julia Ivanova’s heartfelt film is one of success. She constructs an unbiased perception of the family, displaying the tribulations in Olga’s household with an objective eye, aiding in capturing the essence of many of the family members. The reminder of the awkwardness of adolescence and the run-ins with parental authority are successfully expressed in counterpoint to Olga’s undeniable passion and her magnified matriarchal stance and work towards the most pleasing and interesting aspect of Family Portrait in Black and White. The film does suffer from the occasional slip into appearing somewhat televisual while the whole oddly lacks the expected emotional challenge. Overall, Family Portrait in Black and White is a gentle and pleasant insight into this exceptional family unit.
Watch the trailer for Family Portrait in Black and White here