Friday, December 16, 2022

Children of the Mist

For Di, a young Hmong girl, growing up in mountainous North Vietnam is the worst of two worlds. She gets all the pressure of online social media, but she also must worry about the “traditional” bride-napping practice, usually targeting girls around fourteen, just like her. Ironically, when navigating this difficult societal terrain, she wears a red star t-shirt evoking her country’s notorious Marxist revolutionary history. Ha Le Diem documents how hard it is to be a halfway forward-thinking girl in her community throughout Children of the Mist, which opens today at DCTV’s Firehouse in New York.

As the film opens, Di and her friends playfully recreate a bride-napping, but she assumes she is too headstrong for it to happen to her. Di actually wants to go to school, but her parents are not so convinced she needs an education. Whenever there is harvesting, she is expected to be there. That is also true for most of her classmates, much to the annoyance of her didactic teacher, who clearly has little patience for tradition.

Ironically, Di is so modern in her thinking, she really doesn’t notice she is being bride-napped, until it is too late. She just accepts a ride with Vang, a boy from school, whose parents then tell her they are getting married now. Di is not happy with that arrangement and neither is Ha, who seems more outraged than Di’s dowery-formulating parents.

largely starts as an observational ethnographic documentary, but down shifts into something more urgent. While many previous docs have bemoaned the intrusion of the “globalist” economy into remote traditional enclaves, especially when it happens in the Brazilian Amazonia, Ha very pointedly introduces contemporary questions regarding consent and equality.

Some of the early agricultural scenes are a bit slow and some of the later scenes of family conflicts, both within her own and with Vang’s, are difficult to witness. However, Ha certainly captures the realities of life for Di, with vividness and immediacy.

The truth is: it is much more difficult to be a girl outside the Western democratic capitalist world. That is especially true under regimes like those in China and Iran. Di deserves a chance to fulfill her ambitions, but traditional customs make it harder rather than easier. At least that is Ha’s clear takeaway. Recommended for supporters of immersive documentaries,
Children of the Mist opens today (12/16) at the Firehouse.