‘Bride kidnapping’ continues to exist in the Hmong’s cultural tradition as this beautifully shot, eye-opening Vietnamese documentary shows us with raw authenticity and empathy the life of a 12-year-old Hmong girl pushed towards the fate of a prospective marriage.
Dir. Diem Ha Le
2021 | Vietnam | Documentary | 92 min | 1.85:1 | Hmong & Vietnamese
NC16 (passed clean) for some coarse language
Plot: In the misty mountains of northern Vietnam, a Hmong teenage girl faces the challenges of growing up. In Di’s traditional culture, girls marry as early as 14. But at school, she learns there are alternatives.
Awards: Won Best Director & First Appearance Award – Special Mention (IDFA)
International Sales: Cats & Docs
Subject Matter: Moderate – Hmong Community; Bride Kidnapping; Child Marriage
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Screener – Singapore Film Society Showcase
One of the understated gems of Southeast Asian documentary filmmaking that emerged last year, Children of the Mist is every programmer’s dream. It is the kind of film that will be made more discoverable with curatorial effort.
Winning a couple of awards at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (or IDFA), Diem Ha Le’s work here can only exist because of her desire to bring her camera into the mountains of Vietnam, where she captures the daily lives of a Hmong community.
While the sights and sounds are an integral part of experiencing the documentary, where we get a generous number of beautiful shots of the landscape, Children of the Mist never falls into the trap of becoming a ‘travelogue’ of postcard images.
“I’m still a child. I don’t know why I kidnapped her.”
Instead, the sincerity of Diem’s approach, where she sometimes makes her presence known—and in one unfortunate scene, even tries to intervene in a dramatic development—allows not just a clear-eyed picture of life as it unfolds, but shows us with raw authenticity and empathy how it feels like to be a 12-year-old Hmong girl bound by cultural tradition.
Diem follows Di, who is our ‘protagonist’, as she finds herself inching closer to the cycle of fate that had befallen her community’s mothers and daughters over centuries: ‘bride kidnapping’, where men or boys snag girls into an early marriage, and thus forgoing education and a continuing childhood.
Children of the Mist shows us this cultural practice without judgment—and if there is any, it would solely be seen through the conflicted, tormented eyes of Di. Can she put up a dogged resistance?