Child Resignation Syndrome. Never heard of it? Nor had I before today.
Causing refugee children in multiple countries to descend into a months, even years long coma, the affliction does indeed exist. Directors Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas‘ soon-to-be released documentary short Life Overtakes Me, follows three children in Sweden stricken by the syndrome in an imperative and distressing film.
The short opens with an immaculate drone shot over snow-covered trees. While drones in documentaries typically bring a cliched feeling of foreboding, Samuelson and Haptas use the technology effectively to craft a poignant narrative: They examine the macro heartbreak experienced by parents watching their children essentially frozen in time, and the micro slow regression and progression of their conditions.
Over the film’s 40-minute length, Samuelson and Haptas follow three of the 400 children afflicted by Resignation Syndrome. The families of these comatose kids hail from violent and war-torn countries, yet are in danger of deportation. Said danger, and past traumas, cause the children to shut down. They cease to eat, walk, and talk, and further descend into a deep sleep.
Samuelson and Haptas watch the parents cope with their children’s conditions, recounting the heavily wrought toll that caused the families to leave their countries and the emotional weight the newest and most devastating episode have had on them. Their hopes and despairs rarely break through translated subtitles, rather they permeate in the loving stroke of a child’s hair, family dinners using a feeding tube for their sleeping child, or the overall constant care.
One spends much of the film wondering if this will be an episode of Days of Our Lives, when the protagonist magically awakens from their slumber. But the only cure available for these children, is the hardest currency for these near-deported parents to find: piece of mind. Life Overtakes Me does indeed overtake us, reminding us of the perils refugees face, even when the guns cease to fire and the violence ends.
Life Overtakes Me arrives on Netflix on June 14th, 2019.
A Selection of the Chicago Critics Film Festival