Review: Moving documentary ‘Ghosts of the République’ tracks a long road to parenthood
“Ghosts of the République” is a fairly straightforward documentary about a far from straightforward subject: international surrogacy. Producer-director Jonathon Narducci (he was also cinematographer) has crafted a warm and involving, if not always thoroughly probing, look at Nicolas and Aurelien, a gay married couple in their early 30s who, because surrogacy is forbidden in their native France, must travel abroad to realize their dream of fatherhood.
The guys find hope in Las Vegas, where they meet and bond with two kindly local women — egg donor candidate Diana and potential surrogate mother Crystal — who both eventually agree to help Nicolas and Aurelien create a family. The film then tracks the painstaking steps each participant must take — medically, physically, emotionally, societally — from the baby’s conception to its birth. Prepare to shed a tear or two.
The film, shot between 2014 and 2016, features the kinds of bioethically charged court hearings and demonstrations that have worked to prevent children born through international surrogacy from being considered both legal French citizens and the lawful offspring of their intended parents.
This edict, which led such children to be dubbed “Ghosts of the République,” hangs over the heads of Nicolas and Aurelien as they navigate the challenges, anxieties and joys of becoming parents through this less-than-conventional route. (Although surrogacy remains illegal in France, a 2019 ruling now allows for a foreign-born surrogate child’s biological and nonbiological parent to both be listed on the birth certificate.)
Although Nicolas and Aurelien are earnest, engaging and attractive, we don’t come to know them all that deeply as an actual couple. What’s their exact dynamic? Is there any significant conflict? How was it decided that Aurelien would be the genetic donor? How are property manager Nicolas and flight attendant Aurelien managing the vast financial toll of surrogacy? What are their life goals beyond parenting?
In addition, how does Crystal’s husband, only glimpsed here, truly feel about his wife’s role in this arrangement — save the sizable fee she’ll be paid — and its effect on their own young family?
Given that “Ghosts” runs a compact 80 minutes, there was room to further explore the many tentacles of the film’s intricate, delicate topic. Still, this is vital territory that will open less initiated viewers’ eyes to the deep commitment and dramatic lengths it can take for many gay couples to become parents.
‘Ghosts of the République’
In English and French with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Playing: Available Nov. 17 on digital and VOD
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