Dearest Sister (2016) Beautifully Captures Class Conflict In A Ghost Story
Written by Christopher Larsen
Directed by Mattie Do
One of the first lines in Dearest Sister is an exchange between our protagonist Nok (Amphaiphun Phommapunya) and her boyfriend in regards to dating someone white, European, in their case, Other. Spoken in their native language yet with that barrier between myself and the players, there was a disdain in that line, a fear. A fear of how whiteness can equal wealth and also a separation from culture and roots and the people who work in Laos everyday to maintain. Dearest Sister uses this as a setup for a story that takes an emotional and ghostly foundation in how values entangle into a mess that class bears.
Nok moves in to her cousin Ana's (Vilouna Phetmany) modestly lavish home in Vientiane where she lives with her business-shady white husband Jakob (Tambet Tuisk) whom enlists Nok's assistance for Ana's rapid loss of sight as a caretaker. Ana's physical impairement is not the only thing that ails her as spirits constantly surround and terrorize Ana with cryptic messages. The emotional bond that Ana and Nok share is a soon becomes second to what unravels when the less fortunate Nok sees the benefits of Ana's blindness. As hope for sight restoration glimmers for Ana, Jakob, and Ana's parents, Nok's moral compass shortcircuits.
The ever vibrant director Mattie Do wants to show multiple aspects of Laos that goes heavily unseen in cinema. She is a superlative storyteller, delivering Lao culture overload that never feels overwhelming. It's a steady character concentration in the villages, cities, vendors, businesses, and interactions with white people that are just as introspective as a blind woman who can see unquiet spirits. Nok's journey is a human one, and the climax of such a trek leaves you a feeling of satisfaction and intensity from not only from the story, but also of what Do will do next.