If director and cinematographer, Thomas Burstyn (This Way of Life) appeared on Who Do You Think You Are? It would be one fascinating episode. His family tree boasts a poet-turned-businessman father, an explorer brother and a mother who became a fashion designer after fleeing the Nazis. In Some Kind of Love Burstyn describes all of this but he mainly turns the camera onto the unlikely relationship between his aunt and uncle. The results are uneven as this documentary seems to be missing some important things.
Yolanda Sonnabend was once a highly sought after artist and designer. She’s had her works exhibited at famous galleries including the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in London. Her bohemian life as an artist with lots of boyfriends sounds exquisite but it is only hinted at. These days she lives in a posh suburb in London in a dilapidated house with her brother.
Sonnabend’s brother is none other than Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, a renowned AIDS researcher and physician. He owns half of his sister’s property and has reluctantly returned to England to live there and care for her as she starts showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The doctor is a rather bitter man whose only outlet is the piano. He is also very protective of his sister, insisting that she should not be filmed because she’s too vulnerable. The filmmaker persists despite his uncle’s protests and the fact that neither make particularly compelling talent.
The ingredients of Some Kind of Love sound excellent but this documentary is difficult to watch. The synopsis describes Yolanda as being like the star of Grey Gardens, or an aunt who is a hoarder. But Yolanda is nowhere near as charming or warm as Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ relatives and later in the film Yolanda has deteriorated so much that we learn she is now living in a nursing home. What could have been an interesting intellectual debate about the roles of art versus science or the sense of obligation versus apathy or ambivalence is missing and what we mostly see is a couple of old eccentrics sitting around complaining or being dismissive of one another.
Some Kind of Love is a short portrait about two complicated people and family members. It seems the director may have been a little too close to the subject matter as this film has lead characters who are not particularly interesting to watch (despite their many accomplishments during their glory days). This documentary could have been a stronger film if it had focused less on the other family members in the story and given a more detailed history or account about Yolanda and Joseph. Some Kind of Love ultimately shows an odd couple leading a sad, quiet and cluttered existence.
Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Some Kind of Love played at Sydney Film Festival on June 11 and plays again on June 12. For more information and tickets please visit: http://tix2.sff.org.au/session_sff.asp?sn=Some+Kind+of+Love&g_cdr=1