Watching the animated memoir Approved for Adoption can stir a serenity like skipping stones on water for a delightfully long time.
In 1971, at the age of five, Jung Henin, known in the comic-book world as Jung, was adopted from a South Korean orphanage by a Belgian family, a “chic” thing in Europe at that time. The movie, adapted from his graphic-novel memoir, is his adoption story, a clear-eyed one, and his struggles with identity will be familiar to many adoptees of all origins.
Jung’s Asian features make his differences inescapable in his large blond Belgian family and at school, yet his Belgianness (he has no memory of Korea and can’t speak his native tongue) also becomes indelible. But Jung doesn’t just worry the beads of his adoption, he also recalls those freak-and-geek moments of growing up, soaked with mortification and wonder.
This is an inescapably 1970s childhood; even Americans who grew up then will recognize how children were routinely bounced between confusing power struggles and neglect from the grown-ups in charge of them.
The beautiful sepia line-drawing and watercolor animation create a composed environment that nevertheless allows sharp points of anger and dread, and Jung and director Laurent Boileau bring in live-action sequences that are like expertly soldered stained-glass panes in a window. Jung could have dug deeper, but his skipping stone never sinks, it only sinks in.