Dallas IFF 2013 Review: BLOOD BROTHER Shines An Honest, Humorous Light On A Sad Situation
We all search for meaning, and Blood Brother shows just how one man found his calling in India. He had no pretension of this happening. He was on vacation there. He tells us he didn't even like kids that much. When he ran across an AIDS group home in India that helps kids and women have a sense of normalcy, he was hooked. His life in America felt like a cruel joke. So, he does his best to get back and stay. That's what Blood Brother revolves around, following Rocky Braat.
Director and Rocky's best friend Steve Hoover provides most of the camerawork when he follows his friend back to India to document the experience. We learn about Rocky's past and how he grew up to be who he is now. He never had a strong family life, and his grandfather basically raised him and his sister when they weren't living on their own. When he finds the AIDS home, full of children that never make you feel like they are in any real disposition until it becomes overt, he learns what it means to be truly needed. Material possessions aren't part of that equation. He describes how these kids, with little material possession, have no way of giving anything to help you. Their lone gift is their love and affection, and when Rocky receives that it fills his heart.
Hoover gives a lot of the older material an odd, fisheye and distorted look. Frames of flashbacks are constantly moving in and out of focus and around the screen. This made me feel like he was trying to show what it was like to remember these actual events; how imperfect our memories are. Does it help the film? That's debatable, but the effect is memorable. The film also does an interesting job of showing how Steve, even in his brief time in India with Rocky, is largely affected by the experience. However, it's not just about the two outsiders. Blood Brother shows the heartbreaking poverty that you can witness in India. At one point Rocky describes large portions of India as 80 years behind America. He gets rid of the pretension of modern America when he lives in India. He has no running water, no central air, and certainly not an indoor toilet.
This is a humbling experience to witness, particularly in an air-conditioned theater. The threat of AIDS is also explored. Steve mentions how he is afraid of touching the kids. They often have open sores and need caring for. What if you are offered food from their plate? The kids notice these things. They can sense when you are keeping them at an arms distance. That humbles Steve and the other cameramen. Rocky is doing great work there, but often isn't appreciated by those outside the community. AIDS is often treated like leprosy. It's seen as a plague that can be easily spread, and the locals want nothing to do with the people that get it. There's also the odd relationship between Western medicine and Indian religion. Their gods will keep them healthy or heal them when they get sick. But AIDS is often a very real, very volatile disease.
For a film about an AIDS community, you'd be forgiven for thinking this would be oppressively bleak. There's sadness, yes, but there's also an appreciation for life throughout. The kids and the women that live in the AIDS home are happy, joyous people. They have a disease that ravages their body but never their spirit. At times, I'd even call this an uplifting documentary. There's no denying the impact this film has, though. With penetrating truth, Blood Brother shows that we all search for meaning in life and rarely is it in such an outstanding and easily shown manner.