Film review: Girl, Taken- there’s no accounting for human behaviour in riveting documentary, directed by Francoise Verster and Simon Wood

Truth is stranger than fiction is an adage that comes to mind when watching Girl, Taken, the documentary, directed by Francoise Verster and Simon Wood, tracking the journey of the baby girl, named Zephany Nurse,  stolen, age three days, at her mother’s beside in Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, April 1997. Celeste Nurse was 17 when her baby girl was kidnapped. Celeste and her husband, Morne, had three more children. When their 2nd daughter, Cassidy, moved schools, she met a young woman, who looked exactly like their stolen daughter. That led to the Nurse family being reunited with the baby girl, named Zephany at birth. In 2016, the woman, who stole her, was convicted and was sentenced to 10 years in jail. According to Google, she is eligible for bail consideration in July 2023. It sounds like a fairy story but as we see from the intriguing, Girl, Taken, this was and is not a happy story.

The re-unification with the Nurse family with their daughter, played out very publicly- like a soap opera. It was revealed that the person named Zephany, at birth, who now goes as Miché Solomon, had pledged allegiance to the parents who brought her up, and to the person who stole her. The directors astutely unpack the many issues- without judgement – in this story and allow the protagonists to speak for themselves. The other adage that comes to mind, watching Girl, Taken: There’s no accounting for human behaviour. One can imagine the shock of Miché, discovering that her family was not her family. One cannot begin to fathom what the Nurse family went through. Every year, on their daughter’s birthday, they made a cake and celebrated her life. But, whoah, the fall-out from the re-unification, was bitter and twisted in multiple directions. Clearly, everyone was damaged from the stealing of the baby girl.

The heinous crime of the kidnapper impacted on everyone. Woven into this bizarre story was the fact that the kidnapper was a “good mother”. She doted on Miché. A teacher raves in the doccie, about the mothering of Miché, as if that somehow mitigated what happened. But then, we hear that Miché, herself, “chose” the woman who stole her and side-lined her birth mother and father. By the end of the documentary, they are all getting along, kind of; gathering together for birthday parties; happy snapping with selfies and pics. Dangling over the happy-snappy fam is the issue of the kidnapper being released and then what? Yeah, then what? It looks like there is another film in this developing story. If this was America, it would probably be a reality TV series.

Girl, Taken is an astute piece of film making. The directors deftly tease out a Pandora’s box of layers, within this horror story which became a celebrity story. Beyond being compulsive viewing, Girl, Taken, stands as a cautionary tale. Re-unification – families – lost and found – are full of tension and if they unfurl in the public gaze, then, there it is likely to become a spectacle with recrimination and disappointment. Girl, Taken is screening, online at Durban International Festival, available for “renting”, at no cost, until July 31, 2022. Link: Once the film is in your library, you have two days to watch it. Essential viewing.

✳Featured image: Miché Solomon, from Girl, Taken. Pic supplied by Durban International Film Festival.