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The autobiographical documentary has always been a rather understocked strand of cinema, and French-Belgian-Korean animation Approved For Adoption (Couleur de peau: miel) stands as an intriguingly unusual variation on the form. Adapted from the graphic “novel” by the acclaimed Korea-born, Belgium-raised writer/artist known as “Jung,” and co-directed with Laurent Boileau, it offers a series of vignettes from a mostly happy childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s with wryly amusing results.
Having opened in France and Belgium in June, it’s since played at several festivals and events dedicated to either animation or documentary. Category-purists may quibble about such definitions, however, as the film does feature numerous live-action sequences, and the documentary sections consist of dramatizations featuring vocal performances from actors.
Then again, hybridization and the blurring of definitions are very much the point of Approved for Adoption, which is driven by Jung’s ongoing interrogation of his own identity based on factors of ethnicity, culture and environment. Leaving his native South Korea at the age of five, he then becomes part of a reasonably well-heeled Belgian family and finds himself with several older brothers and sisters, neither “black” nor “white,” rather “honey-colored” – hence the original, rather more mellifluous French-language title (“Color of skin: Honey.”)
Adopting Asian children was, we’re told, quite a “chic” thing to do in the Belgium of the early 1970s, but while Jung isn’t the only kid of Korean background in his provincial city, his outsider mentality results in some behavioral issues at home and at school. There’s material here for a considerably darker journey into junior psychology, but the occasional incidents of what now seem like alarming corporal punishments are played for low-key laughs and serious traumas, including an enigmatic family tragedy, are touched upon with a discretion that verges on evasion.
Jung’s memories are interspersed with live-action footage showing the present-day author as a 43-year-old making a belated return to Korea a couple of years ago, which serve to break up the action but ultimately feel like padding designed to get the picture up to a reasonably lengthy running-time. The elder, subdued Jung – his recollections voiced by William Coryn – is perhaps inevitably overshadowed by his live-wire younger self, a bright youngster who grows into an engaging teen.
And while the 2009 Seoul footage is visually functional, the “flashback” sequences are animated in a distinctive, subtly heightened style that includes a sepia-brown autumnal color-palette and people with blocky, slightly oversized heads. Crucially, Jung and Boileau manage to convey the bonds of affection and love that hold this unusual family together, in a manner that will ring a moving chord with many who have experienced similar circumstances.
Venue: Abu Dhabi Film Festival (Documentary Competition), October 16, 2012.
Production companies: Mosaïque Films, Artémis Productions
Cast (voices): William Coryn, David Macaluso, Arthur Dubois, Christelle Cornil, Jean-Luc Couchard
Directors / Screenwriters: ‘Jung’ (Jung Henin), Laurent Boileau, based on the graphic novel by Jung
Producer: Thomas Schmitt
Executive producer: Jean-Luc Desmond
Director of photography: Remon Fromont
Production designer: Jean-Jacques Lonni
Music: Siegfried Canto, Little Comet
Editor: Ewin Ryckaert
Sales agent: Wide House, Paris
No MPAA rating, 74 minutes
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