SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! At a certain point in Ursula Macfarlane’s The Lost Sons, the subject of the intriguing documentary, Paul Fronczak, speculates that viewers will “f*cking hate” him. Happily, he could not be more wrong if he wished to be. Even when his compulsions take control of his life, so he’s ignoring his wife and daughter, the audience always understands his motives and is by Fronczak’s side, rooting for him every step of the way.
What could be going on in the actor/model/musician’s life that he put his marriage on the line? Well, to understand that, we need to time travel to 1964, Chicago. Chester and Dora Fronczak’s baby was kidnapped by a lady pretending to be a nurse. This left them devastated, especially since the police and FBI turned up precious few leads.
Fifteen months after that tragic event, a toddler is found abandoned in Newark, New Jersey. Unable to track down any information on the boy or his potential parents, law enforcement begins to look into other cases for clues. It is believed this found child might be the very same as kidnapped nearly two years ago. The Fronczaks are brought in to assess if this is their child, and both husband and wife agree he is.
Now an adult, Paul Fronczak uncovers new information about himself and the kidnapping that upends everything he thought he knew. So, he sets about on a quest to shed as much light on this situation as possible in the hopes of finding the truth. Some may say he’s become obsessed, but he’s just committed to understanding who he is and what happened.
“Chester and Dora Fronczak’s baby was kidnapped…fifteen months after that tragic event, a toddler is found abandoned in Newark, New Jersey.”
That synopsis does not cover even half of the twists, turns, and mystery that make up The Lost Sons. Macfarlane moves through time, cities, interviews, archival news footage, microfilm research, and reenactments with ease, ably ramping up the intrigue at every turn. We are on the edge-of-our-seats as we wait to hear if the kidnapped baby is found. A meeting with an old babysitter is harrowing and will chill you to the bone.
The editing throughout the documentary is spellbinding. Macfarlane amps up the tension by frantically cutting from scenes as the action climaxes, only for us to realize there is yet another climax just on the horizon. Seriously, the film has so many high points it is jaw-dropping to think about. But she also wisely lets some scenes play out in a more leisurely manner, allowing these people to show their humanity in both the best and lowest of times. Foibles and all, these are people we root for, understand, and empathize with.
It certainly helps matter that Paul Fronczak is a charismatic, strong orator, narrating his tale with conviction. A scene with his daughter, Emma, at a diner where they discuss his plans to continue seeking the truth is delightful and proves how good a father he strives to be. See, this whole ordeal began with her birth, as Fronczak wanted to give the doctor his proper medical history for his daughter’s health. His determination to understand all the threads that have come into play is so clear and sensible that it is a tragedy where several trails lead.
The Lost Sons is gripping from start to finish. The editing is breathtaking, the pacing is excellent, and the narrative is filled with so many twists, turns, and close calls that it is one of the best thrillers in a long time; as a reminder, the film is a documentary. Paul Fronczak is a caring man whose quest for the facts proves that truth is stranger than fiction.
The Lost Sons screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
"…gripping from start to finish."