The Lost Sons | Review | SXSW Film Festival 2021

 


An intoxicating amalgamation of talking heads, re-enactments and archival footage, Ursula Macfarlane's The Lost Sons is a real crowd-pleaser. It has all the ingredients of a viral Netflix doc that would have people bubbling in conversation over its twists and turns, questioning their own identity. 


Macfarlane sets up the case succinctly before delving into the darker details of one baby's story of going from kidnapped to found. Paul Fronczak was mere minutes old when he was taken from his mother's arm by a mysterious nurse and not seen again until an abandoned baby was found in Newark a few years later. Beyond the set-up, Macfarlane and the now 56-year-old Fronczak consult multiple contributors to piece together a life and truth he hasn't lived.


"People are gonna hate me, aren't they?" are words directly from Paul that make sense within context, but he is wildly charismatic, and his story is so compelling that it'd be impossible to spend the 98-minute run time not rooting for him. 


The story is so vast and intricate that it would've made for a successful limited series, but that is no discredit to Macfarlane, who slimmed the narrative down and made it sustainable for its feature-length format. It'd almost be the envy of fiction writers from who, had it came from their pens, would've sounded fantastical. Had the story been anything other than fact, an audience would find it hard to board its nonsensical train. 


Once it passes its predictability about 20 minutes in, it's a challenge to keep your eyes off the screen. The only thing that would've perhaps given it additional nuance is delving deeper into Paul's emotional attachment to the issue. Spending the majority of your life wrapped up in one reality only to have it torn apart in seconds must take an unimaginable toll on mental health. Moments of this is gleaned upon by Paul's wife, who refers to him as "always looking for something, never really settled on what he had". We see that kinetic energy through Fronczak himself, and it'd have added an extra something to really get into that an examine the psyche of the situation. 


However, Macfarlane does hit the emotion while managing to maintain the mystery. It isn't so enamoured by the grandeur that it forgets to nail the detail, and Paul's ebullient personality makes for an enticing, impassioned piece of film. 


*


The Lost Sons is playing as part of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival



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