cinema

How one became three — filming an incredible family reunion

‘Seleme seleme’ narrates couple’s African adoption adventure

A still from the documentary Seleme, seleme.
A still from the documentary Seleme, seleme.

The first time you hear this story, it sounds incredible. Miquel arrived in Barcelona at the age of two-and-a-half. Adopted in Ethiopia, he quickly adapted to life with his new parents, Rafel and Irene. He learnt Catalan in months. And once he had, he started talking about his two brothers, about whom — gulp — his adoptive parents knew absolutely nothing.

Miquel’s past was blurry but the memory of his brothers proved impossible to erase. Irene caught a plane to Ethiopia and after spending two days traveling to the south of the country found them in Bona. They were living with their uncle, who could see that they would have to be reunited with Miquel.

Irene had traveled with her sister Alexandra, who was studying film and kept a camera in her hand the whole time. “The first intention was to have images to show to Miquel when he grew up. But once back, and with the view of reuniting them again, I saw that there was a story there,” she says.

A story with the power to fill you with both tears and laughter, and that has turned into Alexandra Rozas’ final project at the prestigious Escac film school, whose alumni include J. A. Bayona, director of The Impossible. Titled Seleme seleme, after a traditional Ethiopian song, it was presented at Barcelona’s La Pedrera last Friday.

Miquel gets jealous like any other sibling when the others arrive

The film contains just 60 minutes selected from around 200 hours of intimate footage that Alexandra shot. It shows Irene’s encounter with Miquel’s birth family, discovering the harsh conditions in the tiny village in which they lived, her return to Spain and the wait to go back, this time with Miquel.

Then comes the reunion of the three brothers — which sent the whole theater into floods of tears — and you watch “how the three had to get to know each other bit by bit,” says Alexandra. Playing, eating, bathing, dancing, reading, getting bored.... And how, despite his happiness, Miquel gets jealous like any other sibling when the others arrive.

“This is what having brothers is all about. If you don’t like it, you put up with it,” says Irene during an argument over a toy.

Miquel, who is the middle brother, Manel and Joan spent two years apart, but have now been back together for four. They usually talk about Ethiopia when they are in the countryside, in particular of how they missed each other.

“To move forward they have had to leave their memories behind, but the good thing is they can share them,” says their aunt.

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