The Dark Matter of Love: Film Review

Despite its occasionally awkward blending of scientific and emotional themes, this timely documentary tugs at your heartstrings.

Sarah McCarthy's documentary chronicles the complex emotional dynamics involved in an American couple's adoption of three Russian children.

Benefiting from an unfortunate if inadvertent timeliness due to Vladimir Putin’s recent banning of adoptions of Russian children by American families, Sarah McCarthy’s (The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical) documentary delivers a portrait of one such case concerning a Wisconsin couple who take in three youngsters from a Russian orphanage. Examining the complex situation from a unique angle involving scientific studies of parent-child relationships, The Dark Matter of Love -- which recently received its U.S. premiere at the Doc NYC festival -- doesn’t fully succeed in its blending of its personal and clinical aspects. But it does provide a compelling portrait of a newly-forged family struggling with complex interpersonal dynamics.

The film’s subjects are Claudio and Cheryl Diaz, who travel to Russia to give their teenage daughter Cami some ready-made siblings. They manage to adopt five-year-old twins Marcel and Vadim, as well as eleven-year-old Masha, but that’s only the beginning of a process fraught with cultural, linguistic and emotional barriers.

The sassy twin boys are less than receptive to such things as being given new names -- they helpfully suggest that if it’s necessary, they should be called Chocolate and Coconut -- while Masha has little use for her new mother. "I want everyone to think that I am happy," she sullenly comments at one point. Cami, meanwhile, resents the newfound loss of attention, pointing out that "I’m not really daddy’s little girl" anymore.

Helping the makeshift family through their struggles is Dr. Robert Marvin of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, who offers scientific theories derived from years of experiments. Archival footage documents a number of these studies, including one experiment involving the feeding of baby monkeys that led to the idea of "contact comfort."

At times, the film gets overly cutesy in its delineation of such notions, such as when Marvin’s comparison of parent-child relationships to ballroom dancing is followed by footage of Fred Astaire gracefully twirling a female partner on the dance floor. But its chronicle of the family’s gradual formation into a cohesive, loving unit is ultimately quite moving. By the time it concludes with footage of the large brood happily playing together outdoors, we’ve become fully emotionally invested in their fate.

Doc NYC (Double Bounce Films)
Director: Sarah McCarthy
Producers: Sarah McCarthy, Grace Hughes-Hallet
Executive producers: Jonny Persey, Chis Wingader, Al Morrow, Gordon Grender, Remy Bluemfeld, Rob Tucker
Director of photography: Liam Iandoli
Editor: John Mister
Composer: Molly Nyman
Not rated, 93 min.