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By Benjamin Franz | March 10, 2024

SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2024 REVIEW! Dandelions is a brave and deeply personal documentary from writer-director Basil Mironer. What do you do if you have a family you never knew about in a different country? This question propels the filmmaker to embark on a journey of discovery to the country he emigrated from, Russia. Accompanied by his brother Ben and friend Flavia, Mironer uses various digital video cameras to chart their travelogue.

The movie is fantastically edited. Spliced home movies with CRT damage blend into a smooth stream of digital footage, with snapshots of Mironer using a still-shot camera. The documentary is entirely lit with natural light and, having been shot in the summer, is sun-drenched in both California and Moscow. Taking its name from one of Mironer’s favorite childhood memories, the picture not only presents new experiences for the family but also connects the director with memories he holds onto from childhood. He remembers a Dacha – country house – where he and his grandmother blew dandelions on a summer’s day.

In meeting his half-siblings Nikolai and Liza, many questions arise. As both direct cinema and an autobiographical documentary, this film does not flinch from chronicling the awkward, uneasy moments of adult siblings encountering each other after a lifetime apart. Even so, there is much joy to be had at the family reunion. The big smiles and the laughs over dinner call to mind the bygone days when my family was alive, and occasionally, I would meet relatives I had only ever heard of. Similarly, the filmmaker is coming to see family he only has some distant memories of being with, and his brother has never met. Dandelions is such a sweet documentary in that way.

In meeting his half-siblings Nikolai and Liza, many questions arise.”

The midpoint is most touching. Experiencing the doubt and queasiness of inhabiting a new space, we witness Mironer succumb to one of the pitfalls of international travel: sickness. While human habitats, regardless of where they are, tend to be very similar, the differences in the environment from Los Angeles to Moscow mean a stomach bug is liable to happen. Overcoming the sickness, Mironer and his companions are treated to a most wonderful adventure of reconnection in the verdant wilderness of Central Russia. The farther removed you are from a city, the more natural the environment.

In the rolling green forests of Central Russia, deep emotions and further questions arise. Can you actually be considered someone’s son if you grew up without knowledge of the man? There’s an exchange late in the movie where Mironer learns how divorce worked in the Soviet Union. Coming to realize his birth father had few if any, options once his mother decided to divorce is a heavy thought. Strangely, that heaviness does not impact the lighthearted joy experienced by all at the family reunion. However, the weed it’s named for inhabits a brief moment in time. When the petals of the dandelion go white, they soar off into the wind. So, too, Mironer’s visit with his birth dad, grandmother, and half-siblings is all too brief.

Many are the films I see, gentle reader, that are for specific and limited audiences. Dandelions is that warm hug of a cinematic experience that is perfect for everyone. A meditation on what it means to be a family, the film explores what connects us all. It’s really delightful.

Dandelions screened at the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the 2024 SXSW Film Festival


Dandelions (2024)

Directed and Written: Basil Mironer

Starring: Basil Mironer, Benjamin Mironer, Flavia Watson, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

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