Blue Bayou is a deliberately heartbreaking drama about the intricacies of immigration: Sydney Film Festival review

Immigration is a topic that’s quite intensely debated across the world, particularly in the United States.  And in Blue Bayou, a spotlight is shone on a specific group of immigrants, those that come to a country as infants with little to no recollection of their homeland and, quite often, had no other choice.

Such is the case for Antonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon, also serving as the film’s writer and director), a Korean-born, Louisiana-raised immigrant whose adoptive parents decided they didn’t want him, leading him to a troubled childhood that was marred with jail time and abuse.

Once he met the soothing Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and became a stepfather to her daughter, Jessie (Sydney Kowalske), his life took a positive turn and he set out for an honest existence.  Jessie’s real father, however, Ace (Mark O’Brien), a local police officer, doesn’t take kindly to the notion that the daughter he never knew thinks of Antonio as her father, and an altercation – one racially motivated by Ace’s volatile partner (Emory Cohen, truly hateful) – lands him not only in jail, but facing deportation.

Due to a broken system and legal loopholes, Antonio’s deportation, though initially only the result of a bigoted officer, becomes a terrifyingly reality when, despite being married to an American citizen, it’s uncovered that his adoptive parents never submitted the necessary documents to declare him a citizen.

As writer, director and star of Blue Bayou, Chon evidently has invested stock in such a narrative.  A closing scrawl on screen highlights a group of real-life immigration cases, furthering the film’s emotional stakes.  Though it’s easy to suggest some emotional manipulation throughout – the film’s final 15 minutes are particularly heartbreaking, even if deliberately so – the intimate, slow burn approach to his storytelling assists the film in feeling inherently real.

There’s an important story here to be told, and whether or not you respond to Chon’s framing as a whole is irrelevant when looking at the invaluable message on hand.  The idea of sending immigrants “back to where they came from” is never as simple as it’s so often stated, and whilst Blue Bayou doesn’t deep-dive into the politics of such a notion, it’s successful in its plight of detailing the injustice behind deportation for people who have only ever known one country and shouldn’t be held responsible for the negligent actions of those supposedly responsible for them.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Blue Bayou is screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival, which is being presented in-person and On Demand between November 3rd and 21st, 2021.  For more information head to the official SFF page.  The film is scheduled for a national release on November 18th, 2021.

Blue Bayou was originally reviewed as part of this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival coverage.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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