In Love Child, Danish filmmaker Eva Mulvad (Enemies of Happiness) follows an adulterous Tehrani couple and their illegitimate four-year-old son as they flee their homes, fearing for their lives. In Iran, people can be stoned to death for adultery, and four years prior to their escape, Sahand and Leila cheated on their respective spouses and conceived a child. The boy, Mani, was inauspiciously raised by a man who continuously abused his wife and never actually consummated their love.
From the opening frame, the danger for this family is palpable. In tears, Sahand cries out, “I’m not sure if tomorrow I’ll be dead or alive.” We later learn that he also has some dicey political ties back in Iran that fan the flames of risk for his family. Yet Love Child is first and foremost that rarest of documentary forms: a warm, big-hearted love story of surprising intimacy set in stark relief against the drama and turmoil of the migrant refugee crisis.
For Sahand and Leila, Istanbul proves to be, if not a perfect fit, at least culturally comparable to their homeland. It’s easy to adapt to their new environment as far as language goes, and it’s a relatively safe place to wait out the United Nations’ glacially slow reply to their application for asylum.
Shortly after they manage to root out a roof over their heads, the couple reveals to their son that the man he’s been calling “uncle” his entire life is actually his father. Mani freaks out, and for a moment, the family seems to be collapsing before our eyes. Amidst tense situations like this, as well as other moments that are more playful and romantic, Mulvad and crew remain invisible, making Love Child a visceral vérité miracle.
The documentary was filmed over a significant period of time, from 2012 to 2018, capturing lives in radical transition with great affection and emotional rapport with a scope that allows for great complexity of character and context.
Love Child was clearly a close collaboration between subject and filmmakers with the goal being to tell a story of how the formation of families is, though unavoidably random in nature, ultimately an act of choice fueled by unaccountable, unencumbered love, even when faced with the potential of deadly consequences. The result is a complex and deeply moving tale that speaks to our times and, most thankfully, our heart.