Documentary Review: Children of the Mist (2021) by Diem Ha Le

From its first shot, “Kids of the Mist,” Diem Ha Le’s award-winning documentary concerning the Hmong group’s bride-stealing apply, plunges us into the every day lifetime of a household from Vietnamese minority with none clarification. There isn’t any exposition right here, no textual content to offer us context, no clarification concerning the folks and their precarious place within the Vietnamese socioeconomic hierarchy, not even the place they stay. We solely see that it’s someplace excessive within the mountains, the place the mist is thicker than milk.

As a substitute, Diem lets us uncover out every thing by ourselves. Not via boring speaking head interviews along with her topic or different folks of her instant environment, however via interactions throughout the household she lives with and the interactions of the daughter, Di, with those round her. She accompanies the woman in school, the place she goes in full make-up, as if wanting to point out her budding sexuality and announce to doable suitors that she is prepared for marriage. She additionally goes along with her to a sort of teenager social gathering the place a number of the bride kidnapping happens. She even half-follows Di as she leaves with Vang, a boy she appears to love who guarantees he gained’t kidnap her. In fact, he lies and plainly she half is aware of it. These observations are at instances throughout the documentary interspersed with ones of the documentarian asking the younger woman and her household about their selections, particularly associated to the bride-stealing practiced locally, generally punctuated with self-reflective monologues by Diem about her relationship with Di and her household. These exchanges are all the time spontaneous, lending the film a sense of authenticity much like the one achieved by Zhang Mengqi in her “Self-portrait” sequence.

Slightly than a research of a minority, “Kids of the Mist” presents the viewer with an intimate and, what’s extra essential, compassionate portrait of the connection between a director and her topic. Because the film progresses, so does the connection between the 2 girls. This exhibits particularly in the direction of the tip when Diem, with digicam in hand, rushes to save lots of her expensive Di. She not solely movies as an observer to the goings-on within the household, however does every thing she will be able to to assist the younger woman. She urges Di’s father to go and save his daughter when Vang kidnaps her. The daddy, drunk once more, says he shouldn’t meddle within the youth’s life. And neither ought to she, his stern look suggests. She does the identical, however to an excellent bigger diploma, when Vang and his household attempt to actually kidnap the unwanting Di from her home. Ignoring her pleas and wriggling, they pull her in the direction of their home, whereas the woman’s dad and mom sit idly, watching. Diem is the one one that rushes to assist, making an attempt to carry her good friend, weaken the grasps of the invaders. But, she is sort of attacked by none aside from Di’s father who seems to be like he’s going to beat the director up for making an attempt to assist his daughter. 

As enraging as Vang’s stalking-like conduct and his dad and mom’ excessive violence could be, and belief me, they’re to the diploma that the film ought to have a warning for triggering content material, it’s Di’s dad and mom who appear to be the true villains right here. Alcoholic and pleased with it, uneducated and seemingly in opposition to any kind of studying, they care extra about shedding face in entrance of their group than the well-being of their daughter. That’s the reason they’re prepared to promote her on the age of 14, just because she has made a mistake to comply with a man dwelling. Some would possibly name this following custom or Hmong tradition, and to a level it could be, however as Di’s lecturers inform her and attempt to clarify to her dad and mom a number of instances, the truth that one thing was achieved previously doesn’t imply that it ought to continued to be achieved. Particularly whether it is as abusive and damaging as kidnapping and compelled marriage as is the case with bride-kidnapping.

Along with alcoholic and abusive, Di’s dad and mom are compulsive liars. Although many instances the woman’s mom tells her that she doesn’t need to marry the boy who kidnapped her if she doesn’t wish to, even going so far as to offer her recommendation the best way to break up with him with out the household shedding face, she begins verbally abusing her the second Di tells Vang she doesn’t wish to be his spouse. In the long run, the woman’s solely assist is Diem, her dad and mom are drunkards who’re prepared to promote her for some booze, all of the whereas complaining that nobody goes to handle the pigs when they’re drunk, her neighbors too, appear to be drunkards to simply accept the bride stealing at a younger age as one thing regular.

Diem is Di’s solely good friend and he or she will not be afraid to point out that. Nevertheless, this isn’t the kind of friendship primarily based on hierarchy between topic and director, as different documentaries would possibly entail. Diem doesn’t appear to simply accept the customs of the Hmong, neither is she uncritical of the actions of Di. At one level, she even goes so far as to say that she hates her as a result of she behaves with out fascinated about the longer term. This appears to be admonition as a lot in the direction of Di as it’s to all of her mates, even your entire group, all of which appears to stay for the day – ingesting, partying, complaining. The “hatred” Diems admit, although, appears to be one primarily based on sister-like love. She actually cares about Di and needs to assist her, however not in some savior kind of means, within the sense of rescuing the woman from her abusive dad and mom or calling the cops on them, would entail. She respects her younger good friend means an excessive amount of to do this. As a substitute, she tries to offer her energy to talk and battle for herself via the facility of the digicam and their conversations. And ultimately, she does, rejecting each the wedding she considerably selected, the place she was compelled into, and, most significantly, the kind of damaging custom that has no place within the modern world.

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