Mix-up Ou Meli-melo (1987)





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Art House & International , Documentary
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Critic Reviews for Mix-up Ou Meli-melo

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April 4, 2011
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Mix-up Ou Meli-melo


A Truth Waiting to Be Told Family is what you make it. My daughter's adoptive dad has told her all her life that more family is almost always better, but when she decided she didn't want to associate with birth family for a while, we all agreed to respect that decision. (Though it hurt like crazy for me!) However, we've all chosen the relationship we have now. She didn't, originally, but she has chosen to be open to birth family again. No one in this particular story made the initial choice, and the choice was much more complicated than any I was involved in. And in fact, one mother spent a lot of time trying to deny the situation, even though the other wanted to straighten things out. She had known something was wrong from the beginning, but that doesn't mean she was consulted in what would happen to her daughter. If she had been, it would not have happened. What happened was that two women gave birth in the same hospital on the same night. Margaret Wheeler and Blanche Rylatt each gave birth to a little girl. Margaret named hers Valerie, and Blanche--and the film never clarifies if this was a coincidence or not--named hers Margaret. Margaret the Elder knew that something was wrong, and she chose Fred Rylatt as Valerie's godfather so that the families would not lose touch and so that she would be able to keep track of her flesh-and-blood daughter. Eventually, the families were unable to deny the truth anymore, and by the time the documentary was made, everyone concerned has had to face the issue of how to explain the family relationships. Everyone must also come to terms with how they feel about the situation and how they handled it before they were unable to deny the truth anymore. The part I didn't understand was that Margaret the Elder wrote to George Bernard Shaw about the situation. Now, since this was before it was public, before the Rylatts were willing to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth, I'm not at all sure what he had to do with anything. She speaks of writing to eminent scientists, and I get that. She wanted to know if there was any way to prove that Margaret the Younger was her biological child. (After all, DNA testing was only really becoming possible at the time this documentary was made!) I mean, she says she had a lot of fun exchanging letters with him, which she apparently did for several years, but why did she write to him in the first place? I mean, yes, the story of the two families is compelling, but she can't have thought that turning it into a play was the best option. For one thing, I suspect that forcing the situation into the spotlight that early would have ensured that the Rylatts never let her see Margaret the Younger again. The visual style on this is a little on the experimental side. Director Françoise Romand wanted to blur the line between fiction and documentary; two actresses were brought in to play the switched girls as children. There is much use of mirrors, doorways, and other means of fiddling with lines of sight. Of course, the story itself is somewhat disjointed. There is much emphasis on what was known at the time versus what is known now and what is biological versus what is social. (Or whatever you want to call the de facto family situations.) It's a mistake that shouldn't have been possible not merely to make but to let go for literally decades--the families only started dealing with the situation with Margaret the Younger got married. Even though the evidence had been building up for a very long time before then. And again, Margaret the Elder had suspected since day one. The two families have made the decision to interact. Essentially, to become one--neither mother wants to give up her biological child [i]or[/i] her foster child. (Arguably, it cannot be called adoption because no legal paperwork was ever filled out.) Even Margaret the Elder, knowing that Valerie wasn't her biological child, did not fail to bond with the girl. I suspect Valerie has had the hardest time with it, knowing all along that both women would have preferred having Margaret the Younger. Margaret the Elder wanted her biological child back, and Blanche wanted to believe that she'd always had hers with her. On the other hand, it is made clear that she wasn't neglected or mistreated. She just never quite felt as though she fit in, and unlike quite a lot of other girls experiencing the same feeling, she was actually right. She didn't belong with the family raising her.

Edith Nelson
Edith Nelson

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