The filmmaker Ha Le Diem shot Children of the Mist over the course of three years, integrating herself into Di’s life in a way that complicates the documentary’s otherwise unobtrusive, observational approach.
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The filmmaker educates and entertains with a profoundly human story about the life of a young woman. Viewers will become invested in what happens to Di and learn about the Hmong tradition along the way.
It’s an auspicious arrival for first-time feature director Diem, who handles delicate subject matter (not to mention vulnerable human subjects) with a frankness that stops short of button-pushing. That tact is crucial in a film operating as both close-quarters character study and wider ethnographic portrait, offering a rare, dedicated view of Vietnam’s little-represented Hmong population.
Although this is all presented by Diễm with no judgment, it’s hard to watch such young girls be so blithe about a tradition that robs them of their autonomy.
Diem’s intimate access and sensitive approach, together with editor Swann Dubus’ keen eye for texture and detail, make for a compelling and eye-opening drama.
From behind the camera, Ha Le Diem attempts to protect Di by reasoning with kidnappers, but is pushed away; she admits to the young girl later that she did not anticipate the tradition could be so brutal. The decision to leave in such details is particularly thought-provoking, fracturing the supposed neutrality of documentary film-makers.