There are a lot of tears in Iran's entry to the Best International Feature at the 2020 Oscars. From Farideh, certainly, but all those who come in contact with her throughout this journey seem to shed a tear too - and I will include myself in that collective.
'Finding Farideh' centres on Eline Farideh Koning, a 40-year-old Iranian woman who was adopted by a Dutch family when she was just six months old. Dissuaded by her friends and family to explore her origins, "Farideh", as she now likes to be called, finally gathers the strength and courage to write into the local Yemen newspaper to share her story. To her bewilderment, three separate families respond to her article, each with a genuine case that they may be her biological family. And this is where co-directors Azadeh Moussavi and Kourosh Ataee begin our feature. Following Farideh on her maiden voyage to Iran, she meets these prospective families and takes a DNA test, hoping to determine who left her at that shrine all those years ago. But this isn't a witch-hunt or a 'whodunit' -this is a reunion of the highest emotional toll.
From the onset, we know this is going to be a personal story. As we watch Farideh get ready at home in the morning, it's just the audience and a hand-held camera. That personal and intimate touch doesn't go away. There are no interviews or voiceover narrations, and that creative choice is most rewarding when it comes to the over-arching narrative - that is, which of the three families Farideh belongs to. The results of the test are revealed at the end, and to the film's credit, what could easily have played out like a Jerry Springer DNA test - belittling the emotional impact and vying for cheap suspense - instead packs a punch and gives weight to their family's purgatory.
Farideh is welcomed into the family homes, and as we watch them prepare food and pray, we learn more about their stories. To delve into the details would spoil the impact, but it becomes clear that this journey is more than just about Farideh finding her family; it's about these families finding their lost daughter, sister, or cousin. They all have their own names for her, because that's what they remember her as, or at least what they believe they remember her as. The sadness and angst attached to these family visits makes for tough viewing, with tears repeatedly pouring down the faces of everyone involved.
To the film's credit, what could easily have played out like a Jerry Springer DNA test - belittling the emotional impact and vying for cheap suspense - instead packs a punch and gives weight to their family's purgatory.
As with so many adoption stories we've seen before on screen, all everyone is after here is closure. Whether or not anyone finds it - well, you'll have to watch and find out, but this moving and revealing story is worth it. Even with an 88-minute runtime, it can sometimes feel like we linger too long on certain parts, especially in the early scenes back in Amsterdam. But once Farideh makes it to Iran and her journey begins to unfold, this poignant and emotional documentary finds its feet, revealing great insights into family life and what it means to find yourself.