Place this in the truth is stranger than fiction category. Twin sisters, born in Korea, separated at birth and growing up on separate continents. One, Samantha Futerman, pursues an acting career in Los Angeles, scores a few movie roles and a popular online video. A friend of her French-raised sister, Anais Bordier, sees the video, contacts Anais, and thanks to the wonder of the internet, the two meet, first virtually, then in-person. And we have the privilege of watching the story unfold.
That in and of itself would be an interesting documentary, but TWINSTERS is interested in exploring much more than tracking that story from Sam’s first Skype with her twin, to the DNA test that confirms what a mirror has already established. Rather, this is a moving consideration of family bonds, and what it means to belong somewhere regardless of blood ties.
Aside from the amazing story, the film is blessed to have as its subjects two such charismatic young women. Sam, the bubblier of the two, has an offbeat sense of humor and a fearless attitude towards life. Anais is less extroverted, as an evaluation the two take as part of twin research study assess as part its overall evaluation. Yet there is the same sense of humor, and same infectious giggle when they first meet, and that palpable bond they immediately form even surrounded by their respective, and gob-smacked, families. It’s also a blessing for the two sisters that Anais, who studies fashion design in London, is fluent in English, though the first in-person meeting after testing and Skyping, mostly consists of repeating the phrase “It’s so weird” over and over. And, indeed, it is. So singular an experience, in fact, that there is no protocol for either of them to fall back on.
Away from family, with only the camera to watch them, they fall into an easy familiarity that is obviously more than meeting someone compatible. There is an emotional intimacy that defies expression, and allows them to compare lives with complete honesty, while marveling at each other’s existence. Whereas both were adopted by Caucasian parents, Sam had two brothers and community that didn’t make race an issue, Anias had an equally loving family, but a harder time fitting in at school. It makes for some interesting philosophical moments of the “nature versus nurture” variety as their personalities are tested when Anais visits Sam in California. Laid out with scientific graphs, the differences are no less startling than the results that are as identical as the twins themselves.
Differences are revealed as well in the last part of the film. Sam, the bolder of the two, wants them to return to Korea and look for answers about not just why they were given up for adoption, but why they were separated. Dubious, Anais is less than enthusiastic, considering the day she arrived in France as her birthday, not the day she was born to a mother who rejected her. Yet she agrees to go for Sam’s sake, and the answers they receive in the country of their birth are not exactly the ones for which they were looking.
Directors Futerman herself and Ryan Miyamoto take a cinema verite approach to the story. There is no commentary, no voice-over, just the excitement and joy of these two people discovering another version of themselves. It better allows us to experience this at first-hand what this must be like. They stare into each other’s faces with complete absorption, taking in the familiar strangeness as we look on. At one point they try on each other’s clothes, and Sam notes that it feels like she is dressing herself as she buttons up her shirt on Anais. But it’s the seemingly instinctive reactions that are the most telling, and which the camera notes: the way they hold hands, the way they sit close to one another, and the rapport that transcends getting acquainted.
While Sam and Anais are both on the physical journey together to Korea, it’s Anais who makes the bigger emotional journey, as she realizes that the feeling of loneliness that has been part of her life is now over. It’s part of the mystery of twins that TWINSTERS reveals as it also touches our hearts.