Poor babies

A self-pitying yuppie couple in the self-pitying movie "Holy Lola" rampage blindly through Cambodia in search of a baby to adopt.


"Holy Lola" is a movie about the prototypical Ugly American abroad. Except he's not American, he's French.

Directed by: Bertrand Tavernier.
Written by: Dominique Sampiero, Bertrand Tavernier, Tiffany Tavernier.
Cinematography: Alain Choquart.
Edited by: Sophie Brunet.
In French with English subtitles.

Bertrand Tavernier (known in the U.S. for "Round Midnight") went to Cambodia and came back with a movie that doesn't have a lot of Cambodia in it. Rather, it has a lot of French people in it. The film offers a tunnel-vision travel video of the country as seen through the eyes of a French couple desperate to adopt a beautiful, healthy, non-HIV-infected, non-hepatitis-B Cambodian baby, along with all the other infertile French couples competing for the same thing.

Pierre and Geraldine arrive at a hotel that's become adoption centrale for childless French couples. Frazzled would-be parents trade tales of the indignities they've had to put up with, and exchange scuttlebutt about where in the 3AAA an unclaimed baby might just have been squeezed out. When they arrive at the rumored orphanage, the baby has already been snapped up, but the couple is welcome to inspect the remaining tots through a window like so many crustaceans in a restaurant lobster tank.

They are directed at one point to a Dr. Sim Duong, who seems to be the guy who knows where the adorable little bodies are buried around Cambodia. Barging into his clinic, they find him up to his stethoscope in mutilated locals — and it's surprising, since our man Pierre is a doctor back home in Auvergne, that he doesn't feel the need to pitch in and help. But now, he's solidly in "gimmeababy gimmeababy gimmeababy" mode and he's perfectly willing to barge in and interrupt the clinic's treatment of people with gaping wounds to inquire whether Dr. Duong can send them home happy.

And this is how most of the movie goes. We're meant to sympathize with this self-absorbed couple as they pursue their own desire to the exclusion of everything else around them. Only once or twice in two-plus hours is there a break in their solipsistic bubble. In one case, the couple actually stops at the scene of a serious traffic accident to help somebody else for a change, and the doctor's ministrations lead to a dinner invitation in the countryside which leads to some amazing stories of how people survived the years of war. If the movie were about something other than the protagonists' egos, there would be more scenes like this. As it turns out, the evening makes so little impression on our friend Pierre that he doesn't even remember one of the storytellers when they meet again later in the film.

As they complete their mission to parachute into this Third World country, ignore everything around them and escape with a baby, you would think these people might feel a little twinge that there's something they're missing in their tour, that there's something unseemly about their singleminded yuppie plundering. But no! They can live with themselves quite easily, knowing that they are not the true villains of this story. That would be ... the Americans!

While the Frenchies merely show up in ones and twos and try to work the bureacracy themselves, the Americas (they hear) have industrialized the process, creating a money-driven baby-extraction machine that leaves others in the dust. "They take 200 orphans a year. It's too much. Too much! It doesn't rain orphans!" Dr. Duong tells Pierre and Geraldine. "So countries like yours come in second."

Aha! The bad guys are the Americans with their big bucks and heartless capitalism, ruining the world for the humble French. And on the other side are the Cambodian functionaries with their petty demands, making life miserable for the virtuous French. Whichever way you look at it, the problem is never the second-fiddle French.

And that's the problem with the movie. We're asked to have empathy for this couple when they have no empathy for others. The worst that can happen to them is that they go home as childless as they were when they left, with petty mutual recriminations as the only souvenirs of their journey. Neither the characters nor the filmmakers have been touched by what they've had a chance to see on their foreign adventure.

In one empty gesture late in the film, the couple go visit the museum at the former S21 prison — we see them walk wordlessly through a room lined with mug shots of the inmates murdered there by the Khmer Rouge. If you haven't seen the stunning documentary "S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine," you will have no idea what this scene is about — it's just a momentary filler scene. But here's what it's about: cinematic tourism. Tavernier even cast "S21" filmmaker Rithy Panh in a small role, in a bid to borrow some authenticity from somebody who actually made a great movie. But the mere fact that Tavernier has seen a great film about Cambodia doesn't mean he's made one.


wasted money

The worst that can happen to them is that they go home as childless as they were when they left, with petty mutual recriminations as the only souvenirs of their journey.

I see wasted money all over this.

Below is the movie trailer.


Ze pour French

While reading up on the French adoption system for the piece Peace Corps or adoption army?, I came across this little jem. Although it is a film, the themes mentioned in the above review very closely resemble the sentiments mentioned in the Peace Corps article. It was while reading this review, the reasoning behind the proposal for a European adoption system as I wrote about in The Romanian battlefield for children finally dawned upon me.

For the longest time I believed the proposal for a European adoption system was only meant as a backdoor acces to Romania's children. Romania banned inter-country adoption years ago and has been faced with pressure from several countries to revert their decision. Despite those pressures, Romania doesn't want to change its laws. By implementing a European adoption system as part of the regulations of the European union, Romania can be forced to open their borders for the export of children, since international law supercedes national law.

While that is true, there is also the aspect of competition with the USA. With a European adoption system, European PAP's are protected against American demand. That aspect I read back in the above review and in the comments made by Rama Yade with regards to the French "Peach Corps".

Tourist trap

What concerns me if the appeal tourism brings a government and it's economy.  When PAP's travel to an orphanage promising the parenting-dream, what are they doing during their stay?  Spending money.

Adoption, therefore, becomes a price-package that fuels many industries.  What government official will want to say no to that?.

Child-trafficking cost

International adoption certainly brings money to the sending countries, having all sorts of spin-offs that benefit the local economy. There are hotels in sending countries that depend almost entirely on international adoption. There are specialized international adoption travel agencies and I bet you will find toy stores near the popular adoption sites that sell the required stuffed animals to bring to the orphanage, before picking up a child.

While many countries will be hestitant to say no to that, there is a tendency among sending countries to close their borders to inter-country adoption. The price to pay for law-enforcement to monitor possible child-trafficking can easily exceed the benefits of extra tourist income.

Re-building communities

I'd like to think it's better to invest in a country's children and family services than the reconstruction of buildings, (like hotels, shops and restaurants), especially since many of the wages made by those working at these places is insulting for those with a family.  People should come before places, but that's not how this world operates.

What good is a beautiful piece of property if the people within it are miserable?


i find it interesting that france's first choice for baby harvesting comes from one of its former colonies.  I'm guessing the rest of the countries the adoption corps canvases will also be former colonies?  i am thinking this is some sort of left-over entitlement.  formerly colonized countries are much like abused children - vulnerable and easy to manipulate.

How to satisfy waiting families in a competitive world

I´d like to remind this article, from May 2007, in which the French Adoption Agency explains their difficulties... It is an informal translation from the French language.

We now know that the French have chosen to send in the Peace Corps Army, with as mission to find adoptable children in Asia and Africa, while they promote a European Adoption policy to keep the caucasian Eastern European babies for the Europeans, being mainly France, Italy, Spain as these are for the moment the most competitive European countries. 

But Sweden, Ireland, UK, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands all want adoptable children. I think we may be seeing here just the start of a big long battle!

French Adoption Agency has difficulty in satisfying waiting families

15 May 14:19 - PARIS (AFP) – One year after the installation of the French Adoption Agency (Agence Francais d’Adopton - AFA), which announced Tuesday its accreditation in Cambodge, families that wish to adopt a child from abroad still have to arm themselves with patience faced with long and tedious procedures.

A jong Emerican just adopted a little Chinese from the centre town Guangzhou, in June 2003

AFP/Archives - Peter Parks

"The reality of adoption today, is an increase in the number of the accredited families and a decrease of the number of children proposed” this hammers AFA since a year, who refuses to be assigned as responsible for the low number of international adoptions.

In fact in 2006, this number passed below the bar of 4.000 (3.995) after having been at 4.136 en 2005, a new record.

"AFA needed time to set up", regrets Marie-Claude Arnauld, of 'Enfance et familles d'adoption (EFA), that regroups 10.000 families.

For Michèle Tabarot, president of the High Council for Adoption, the deception is at the level of "waits" caused by AFA, created on 18 May 2006 to help families in their efforts and to become an official interlocutor with adoption countries, but it cannot guarantee the success of such efforts.

She also evokes the evolution of international adoption. Many countries nowadays privilege national adoptions, "and that’s is a good thing", she says. Brazil thus proposes for intercountry adoption only already big children or siblings groups.

Laure de Choiseul, General Director ofAFA, poses during the inauguration, 18 mai 2006 in Paris, of the French Adoption Agency (AFA) AFP/Archives - Olivier Laban-Mattei

Others, like China, have hardened their adoption criteria.

The progressive closure of private adoptions leads to longer procedure and the dossiers accumulate within adoption agencies and AFA.

Certain countries, Like Ethiopia or Haiti, still accept private adoptions, with the risk for the adopters to fall in the hands of those that conform little to ethics. France sometimes takes the initiative to stop adoptions, for example now with Nepal, for reasons of lack of clarity in the civil status or the consent of the biological mother.

AFA also has to face “competition” from other countries, like Spain and Italy, without speaking about the United States, very offensive, which accompany their adoption requests with humanitarian aid.

"Classical adoption is over, confirms Laure de Choiseul, the countries ask now in parallel cooperation actions. It is something that not had been envisaged when AFA was created. Which therefore has no budget for that.

"We absolutely have to go in that direction, the adopters do not by far realise at what point we are in a situation of competition.", she says.

AFA envisages creating a foundation to receive private funding. It is also considering, with local regions and the ministry of Foreign Affairs, to link cooperation actions to adoption.

"Adoption is difficult enough at the moment, but we cannot say that AFA doesn’t do well", defends its president Laure de Choiseul, who reminds that an adoption takes between 18 and 36 months. Present from now till end 2007 in 24 countries that represent 90% of all French adoptions, AFA works today with 17 countries that ratified The Hague Convention (on child protection), Vietnam and Cambodge, and soon with Russia and the Ukraine.

AFA manages 3.369 accreditation files, on some 25.000 in process. Every year, some 8.000 new accreditations [to families] are delivered.

© 2007 AFP

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