Directed by Mattie Do
Screened at Monster Fest 2016
Mattie Do’s second film, Dearest Sister, is a huge leap forward from her first, Chanthaly, in terms of production and storytelling. Having practically invented the genre scene in Laos, Do’s latest shows that she is really starting to come into her own as filmmaker in her own right. The Australian premiere of Dearest Sister down at Monster Fest is one of many stops along the festival circuit worldwide allowing for more fans to get introduced to Do’s story and her work.
Following a young, poverty-stricken girl named Nok (Phommapunya) from her desperate village to the lavishness of the Laos capital of Vientiane, the vast expanse between the haves and have-nots is already on display from the opening moments. Plucked out of obscurity in order to care for her wealthy cousin, Ana, who is inexplicably going blind, Nok immediately gets a taste and a longing for the finer things in life. Once she learns that Ana has gained a power to commune with the dead, Nok uses that power to her advantage, which eventually leads to her own downfall.
Inspired by a strange Lao belief that spirits bring lottery numbers to the living, the dead that appear for Ana whisper three number sets that Nok uses only to hide the money from everyone else. A lot of Lao families have a penchant for bringing in relatives from the countryside to help in the city. That fact, along with the belief of spirits helping to generate wealth, helps to highlight two cultural elements that make up a great foundation for drama late in the film as both women begin to clash with each other.
Dearest Sister is never preachy, but social class constructs do play a role, causing characters to do things they would never consider if there wasn’t such a stigma attached to poverty. The motive for Nok to do what she does is never questioned, and her character remains the protagonist long after she begins her deception.
As the connection between the living grows more desperate, the dead become even more pronounced, depicted in graphic detail with protruding tendons and bones revealing clues as to how they’ve died. There are plenty of warning signs given to both female leads, but sadly for them, not enough of them are taken seriously before the last and, ultimately, most memorable shot of the film.