The big surprise drops early in “Twinsters,” Samantha Futerman’s documentary about her unexpected reunion with Anais Bordier, the identical twin sister she never knew she had, some 25 years after they were born on the same day in Busan, South Korea. What matters here is less the shock of revelation than the longer, deeper journey of emotional discovery — an initially tentative but ultimately joyous process that offers an absorbingly personal glimpse into a generation of Korean children who were adopted by families overseas in the late 1980s. Fittingly enough for a story that could never have happened pre-Internet, Futerman’s film (co-directed with Ryan Miyamoto) confirms the degree to which self-documentation and social media have saturated contemporary culture, and its dizzying flow of text messages, Facebook posts and Skype conversations should find a warm, receptive audience in theatrical and VOD play.
On Feb. 23, 2013, Futerman, an actress living in Los Angeles, was contacted via Facebook by Bordier, a fashion student living in London, who had randomly seen Futerman’s face in a YouTube video and had been struck by how closely that face resembled her own. The astonishing physical resemblance between the two women was merely the first of several eerie coincidences, including the fact that they were both born on Nov. 19, 1987, in Busan before they were adopted in Seoul — Futerman by a family from Verona, N.J., and Bordier by a couple from Paris. Realizing that she may have met her long-lost twin, Futerman had the presence of mind to start filming herself and Bordier as their journey together began — a journey that plays out here in a vivid, restless, technologically abetted present tense, immersing us in their relationship as it develops onscreen and online.
“You guys are already annoying,” a friend observes, noting how quickly and deeply Futerman and Bordier have taken to each other during one of their Skype sessions. And indeed, viewers with an extreme aversion to girlish giggling — or to the excessive use of emoji, smiley faces, Web acronyms and other staples of high-speed Internet chatter — may find themselves echoing the sentiment. For those with a measure of tolerance, however, the appeal of “Twinsters” will prove as infectious and upbeat as the waves of laughter that seem to issue forth from the sisters in every situation — even when Futerman and her folks head to London to meet Bordier for the first time, a reunion tinged with awkwardness and anxiety early on before flowering into full-on delight.
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The filmmakers keep the camera rolling as the two adoptive families meet, while everyone marvels at how alike the two women look, although their slight differences in facial structure and complexion will make it easy enough for sharp-eyed viewers to tell the difference. Even subtler distinguishing markers will soon emerge, most of them a result of their having been raised under culturally and geographically dissimilar circumstances. Futerman, who grew up with three brothers, is louder and more extroverted; Bordier, an only child (or so she thought), is quieter and moodier, and at one point she poignantly articulates the sense of inexplicable absence that has attended her all her life: “Sometimes, as a kid, I felt lonely and I didn’t know why.”
If any tensions or disagreements arose between them during their first two years together, none of them seem to have made it onto the screen, which is hardly to the film’s detriment. The overriding effect of “Twinsters” is a sense of pleasure at having borne witness to emotional epiphanies of the most affecting and intimate sort: We follow Futerman and Bordier in leisurely fashion as they tour London together, then L.A., and finally — in the film’s emotional high point — attend an adoption conference in their native Korea, by which point a DNA test has already confirmed what they suspected all along.
Some mysteries still remain, of course, most of them stemming from the matter of their birth mother’s identity, which remains undisclosed. The questions of why she gave them up, and why the twins were separated in the first place, are addressed openly but without bitterness or rancor. Sticking to their personal perspective, Futerman and Miyamoto don’t delve too deeply into the mass adoption of South Korean babies abroad — an enormously complicated historical phenomenon with any number of driving social factors, the cultural shame of being a single mother not least among them. Watching “Twinsters,” you get the sense that it’s merely one in a multitude of astonishing narratives that have emerged (or are waiting to emerge) from this particular diaspora; even when the film ends, it’s clear this particular story has only just begun.
On a technical level, the film’s relentless data stream has been assembled with considerable skill; Jeff Consiglio’s super-swift editing was rightly singled out for a jury prize at SXSW. Sometimes overactive musical accompaniment and cutesy but sparingly used animation round out a highly worked package.