‘Blood Brother’: Where love coexists with death | 3 stars

Updated: 2013-10-23T20:07:53Z


The New York Times

Not rated | Time: 1:33

Rocky Braat, a few years into his career as a graphic designer, quit to seek authenticity (his word) by traveling to India, as so many young Americans have done before him.

But his jaunt is different. After a chance stop to visit a home for children with HIV, he decided to stay. What compels him to remain there, working at the home, today?

Some answers are recorded in “Blood Brother,” a stirring documentary directed with narrative depth and unguarded heart by a friend of Braat’s, first-time filmmaker Steve Hoover. The dynamic of their friendship is part of the film’s layers, but it’s way back in the mix.

In the foreground is Braat’s relationship with the children, who call him Rocky Anna (Rocky Brother). He wrestles with them, tells them they’re beautiful, brushes their teeth, cares for their cuts, works out their disagreements and dries their tears.

Many kids, significantly, are individualized beyond simple background figures; they all have a joy that bursts through the screen, their smiles diminishing their arid southern Indian environment and their medical condition. When they’re in danger — as in one harrowing late-night motorcycle ride to a hospital, stymied by a passing train — the editing captures tension worthy of a Paul Greengrass thriller.

“No child ever grows out of their need for family,” Braat says. That includes him, and he’s the mystery of the film. Although not particularly introspective and never a whiner, Braat — who has a troubled relationship with his father and says his mother’s boyfriends beat him as a child — also sees the downside of his new familial sense: “There’s freedom in not being close to anyone,” he says, as death again visits his home, and the villagers begin to distrust his presence.

He worries that he’ll become the cliché he’s always feared: that of the white king helping the darker-skinned needy. Viewers may fear this as well. But by the end of “Blood Brother,” he is about to marry and commit to a future in a village that hardly has indoor plumbing.

Why? Perhaps it’s because Braat has discovered the power of love. The film lets us witness it, particularly as he cares for a young boy, Surya, in a hospital: gently wiping fluid from his sores, scars on his eyes and phlegm from his lips. Surya’s prognosis is not good. Still, Braat is there.

“Love is making someone who is sad feel happy,” one girl says, answering an interviewer’s question. “Blood Brother” showed me that love. I doubt I’ll be the only one.

(At the Glenwood Arts.)

| David DeWitt, The New York Times

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