Handsome (2021)

Dir.: Luke White; Documentary with Nick and Alex Bourne, Molly and Charles Somers, Amber and Armand Maillard, Krich and Sachit Matrega, Thanh Nam and Tranh Viet; UK 2021, 98 min.

This adventurous new documentary from writer/filmmaker Luke White (Blood Money) who embarks on a international search for care-givers for those suffering from Down’s Syndrome. The idea was inspired by his friend Nick Bourne who also looks after an affected sibling, and has come to the stage where he wants to develop his own life. So he takes his brother Alex on a journey round the world, to explore others are coping in his position.

First stop is Cornwall, where Molly Somers looks after her brother Charles (Charlie). Their home is in an idyllic country setting, and Molly is fiercely protective of her brother who clearly brings out her motherly instincts. Compared with Alex, Charlie’s Down’s is quite mild, and he gets on well with his sister, Nick feeling rather envious of their closeness. Obviously it helps if you can through money at the situation, but despite family wealth Molly is determined not to hide reality from Charlie: “He knows he is different.”

Next stop is New York, where Nick and Alex visit City worker Amber who in naturally concerned that caring for her brother Armand will have a negative impact of her own career.  Again, it looks like Nick is over-estimating his brother’s mental capacity and lack of verbal dexterity – which he blames on his parents for sending the boy for speech therapy. Alex can also be overbearing and this is another area Nick must confront as his brother matures into a manhood. There is a tendency for both Amber and Nick to refer to their siblings in the third party, even when they’re actually in the same room, they also need to keep them in the loop, so this in part understandable.

Government help is non-existent, but funding would their lives so much easier. At its the same in Mumbai, where Nick and Alex meet Krich and Sachit Matrega. To start with, Sachit is not badly affected by his Down’s: an accomplished cook, he can also organise his domestic life. Krich shows Nick some self-help organisations in the slums.

On their final stop, in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nick and Alex meet brothers Than Nam and Tranh Viet. The situation here is dire, religious fortune-tellers spin their lies for profit, and even worse, unqualified doctors perform brain-surgery offering false hope to all involved. The two also come across victims of “Agent Orange”, the toxic nerve gas sprayed from planes by American troops from their planes during the war. At the end of the fact-finding mission Nick has reached a decision.

Handsome is often hard to watch, the emotions are so raw. Somehow it feels like we’re intruding into the intimate lives of those affected, and that often feels wrong. Handsome is simply overloaded with human suffering. There are complex issues at stake but White does his best in the  cannot be worked out in a mere 98 minutes. AS



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