Love and Diane, Jennifer Dworkin's astonishing documentary about a former crack addict's attempts to reunite her family, may be the most captivating film experience of the year. Tender and poignantly insightful, the film is a blessing for those who've found the most recent batch of documentaries either sweetly superficial (Winged Migration, Spellbound) or overbearingly narcissistic (Bowling for Columbine); that these lesser documentaries should even be mentioned in the same breath as Dworkin's film is itself something of a crime against this first-time director's absorbing masterpiece. At a swift 155 minutes, Love and Diane submerges us so deeply in the plight of its titular matriarch Diane Hazzard - who is endeavoring to reconnect with the children she lost to foster care six years earlier as a result of her drug-induced neglect - that one feels like it would be perfectly natural to walk up to her on the street and give her an affectionate hug. Dworkin makes us a part of this fractured family, and it is to her credit that she does so not with sermonizing meant to engender our sympathy, but through the unadorned intimacy of her camera's inquisitive eye.

The director spent years following Diane and her brood around Brooklyn, and the film's casual narrative encompasses two and a half years of the household's troubled existence. Diane has brought her five living children back under one roof - her eldest son Charles, with three years of college under his belt, committed suicide after finding his mother's habit and the chaotic home life that arose from it too much to bear - but has discovered that she hardly knows them. This is particularly the case with her 18-year-old daughter Love, who is HIV-positive and mother to a baby boy named Donyaeh, also infected with the disease. Love's years in foster and group homes have turned her into an angry, petulant child, desperate for love and comfort but quick to shut out the world when things seem too overwhelming. As a result of her baby's HIV status, Love is able to get a subsidy for public housing, allowing Diane and the kids to move into a larger apartment in Flatbush, and for a time it seems to Diane that life has finally gained some semblance of hope and normalcy. But Love's mothering skills are in short supply, and Diane's frustrations regarding her daughter's maternal negligence spill out during a therapy session. Soon, the cops have arrived to take Donyaeh into foster care custody while Love is charged with parental neglect, thus throwing not only the mother-daughter relationship into disarray, but also the family's housing situation.

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