“Daughter from Danang” asks a difficult question: Is the love between parent and child automatic?
This searing but sensitive documentary follows Heidi Bub, a Southern gal who spent the first seven years of her life as Mai Thi Hiep, daughter of an anonymous American soldier and a Vietnamese mother. She was taken to the United States in 1975 as part of Operation Babylift, a plan where “orphans” (or children with American fathers) were taken out of the squallor of Vietnam.
Now, 22 years later, she is actively seeking her birth mother, of whom she has but a few fast-fading memories. Her adoptive mother, Ann Neville, was unsupportive and unloving, which led to a falling out between the two. (The documentary’s one significant flaw is that it’s never explained, exactly, why Ann isn’t interviewed. One assumes she was contacted and refused, but it ought to be stated one way or the other — we’re dying to hear her point of view, and if there’s a reason it’s not there, we should know what it is.)
Heidi finds her mother and travels to Vietnam, where the reunion is sweet and tearful. But something is not quite right. With the aid of a translator, mother and daughter get reacquainted. After a few days, it all becomes too overwhelming for Heidi, who feels smothered by all the affection shown her.
Heidi — and the viewer — must consider what makes the mother/daughter bond special. Is it based on biology, or is it more than that? What obligations do we have to people simply because they’re related?
The story of Heidi and her mother is compelling, and the communication between the Americanized woman and her Vietnamese family is sometimes hard to watch. The emotions are raw and will strike a nerve with anyone who’s ever had family trauma. (And who hasn’t?) Directors Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco know good drama when they see it, and it’s all here in “Daughter from Danang,” waiting to touch you.
B+ (; )