SXSW 2015: Twinsters and Moonwalkers

Twinsters is a charming, energizing, and sometimes moving meditation on what it means to be a family.

Photo: Small Package Films

Like a mirror reflecting the effervescence and empathy of its young subjects, Samantha Futerman and Anaïs Bordier (they’re 25 as the story unfolds), Twinsters is a charming, energizing, and sometimes moving meditation on what it means to be a family. Both born in Korea and adopted by families in the West (Samantha by Americans in L.A. and Anaïs by a French couple in Paris), the two learn of each other’s existence after a friend of Anaïs’s alerts her to a YouTube video starring an actress who looks eerily like her. The two start texting each other, forging an instant connection that grows exponentially as they move on to Skype, then in-person visits. Getting genetically tested to find out if they’re identical twins and comparing notes on everything from the very different ways they experienced getting adopted into a foreign culture to whether or not they like cooked carrots, these two openhearted young women form an insoluble bond.

As soon as Samantha realized the significance of what appeared to be happening, she enlisted some filmmaker friends—including Twinsters co-director Ryan Miyamoto—to help her document it. The small crew blended easily into the scenes they were filming, their embedded, fly-on-the-wall style giving an emotional transparency to the footage they shot of Samantha at home, and of milestones like her first trip to visit Anaïs in Paris, Anaïs’s first trip to L.A., and the two young women’s joint journey to a conference for Korean adoptees in Seoul, where Anaïs found a loving antidote to the sorrow of believing she had been an unloved and unwanted infant. Editor Jeff Consiglio had hours of video footage as well as mountains of text messages and other online exchanges to sift through, and he chose well: Twinsters won the SXSW 2015 Special Jury Recognition for Editing.

By telling the story largely through excerpts of their Skype sessions and snippets of Samantha and Anaïs’s WhatsApp text messages, which are presented on screen inside the same kind of bubbles and with the same distinctive “pop” with which they originally showed up on cellphone or laptop screens, Twinsters captures the emotions the two felt as they got to know each other, a giddy intensity that feels almost like falling in love. It also “gave [the film] a drive, because their messages to each other are so urgent,” as Consiglio put it in the Q&A after one SXSW screening. When more insight is needed into their feelings, one of the two often addresses the camera, discussing how she feels about a particularly joyful or difficult situation.

The unusual facts of Samantha and Anaïs’s infancy—having first been separated, then internationally adopted—gives each a rare perspective on what family is and why it matters. They share those perspectives with generosity and honesty as we watch their families expand, eventually including not just both sets of adoptive parents and Samantha’s brothers (Anaïs grew up without siblings), but their Korean foster mothers. It’s a testament to human adaptability and the power of our need to, as EM Foster put it, “only connect.”

Inherent Vice lite, Antoine Bardou-Jacquet’s Moonwalkers is a loose-limbed tour of the ’70s that plays with facts like a kid playing with a helium balloon, but nails the look and feel of the era, its shaggy-dog plot making room for some plangently quirky characters and relationships. Johnny (Rupert Grint), a hapless would-be entrepreneur who’s failing miserably as the manager of a rock band, is the McGuffin who gets the story going, but the standouts here are Tom Kidman (Ron Perlman), an aging Vietnam vet turned C.I.A. agent plagued by flashbacks and PTSD, and Johnny’s sweet roommate Leon (Robert Sheehan), a long-lashed innocent who floats through the film, too stoned to have any agenda of his own and fitting amiably into whatever outrageous scenarios the people around him may cook up. The three wind up in cahoots with a filmmaker whose lack of talent is matched only by his boundless self-confidence and a studio full of artsy misfits, on a mission to make a movie of a moon landing that NASA can show if the real mission fails.

The tone of the movie is generally comic, but a dark thread of violence and official corruption runs through it. The movie studio, which is located in a grand old mansion that’s been decorated and lit like a psychedelic opium den, is a hippie nirvana, a place where people get high, hang out, hook up, and indulge their creative fantasies, dressing up or undressing to perform without a hint of self-consciousness. But reality has a way of intruding, whether in the form of the armed gangsters and C.I.A. agents who wind up in a shootout or the charred corpses of soldiers and Vietnamese civilians that Kidman’s tormented brain keeps conjuring up to stand quietly in the background as worms wiggle in their half-open skulls. As a result, what starts out feeling like a mere frolic winds up more like a picnic in the dark woods of the American subconscious.

SXSW runs from March 13—22.

Elise Nakhnikian

Elise Nakhnikian has written for Brooklyn Magazine and runs the blog Girls Can Play. She resides in Manhattan with her husband.

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