My Flesh and Blood
Jonathan Karsh, Jennifer Chaiken, Amanda Michell, Eli Olson, Hector H. Perez, B. Quincy Griffin
There's a surprisingly refreshing motif in Jonathan Karsh's absorbing documentary about 11 special-needs children and the woman who cares for them. Rather than the expected anguished faces, the film is punctuated by the beautifully shot splashes of children with various debilitating physical and mental disabilities enjoying themselves with abandon at a swimming pool party.
The children's exhilaration reflects the attitude of Susan Tom, their adoptive mother, whose expansive spirit provides her flock a stable home, advocacy, love and a sense of self-acceptance. But My Flesh and Blood is not a Hallmark card. The director the focuses on the kids' and their mother's irreverent, honest way of confronting raw reality. From legless Xenia, who joyously plays a dead biker for Halloween, to Joe, a frustrated 15-year-old with cystic fibrosis who regularly makes angry threats, the siblings act out a whole range of coping mechanisms. But the house really gets ratlled when Joe's anger boils out of control and Tom instinctively and compassionately manages the turmoil.
Composed with an eye of visual metaphors and edited to heighten moments of emotional complexity, Karh's remarkable film brings us inside an experience we might otherwise never know. Not only does he humanize these extraordinary children, but he shows how they humanize everyone around them. As Tom says, "It's life and you just have to live it."