Tuesday, October 26, 2021

DEAREST SISTER (2016) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 25
Total First Time Views: 16
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $2,083.75

Dearest Sister (2016) d. Mattie Do (Laos) (101 min) (1st viewing)

Nok (Amphaiphun Phommapunya), a poor peasant girl from a rural Laotian village, is asked to come to the capital city of Vientiane to serve as personal assistant to her cousin Ana (Vilouna Phetmany) who is slowly losing her eyesight. Married to Jakob (Tambet Tuisk), a hustling European entrepreneur attempting to set up solar farms, Ana remains isolated in her home, a luxurious abode that is slowing turning into an unnavigable abyss (especially when her conniving maid/cook continues to move the furniture as a means of petty rebellion). Nok envies her cousin’s lifestyle, if not her life, and when she discovers that Ana’s frequent encounters with otherworldly spirits yield the side benefit of the next day’s winning lottery numbers, she begins to cash in and get a taste of “the good life.” Her fortune sparks jealousy and suspicion from those around her, only increasing her desire to get above it all, to have “enough,” and when a cure for Ana’s blindness arrives on the horizon – as well as an end to her visions – that dream is threatened….

More supernatural drama than out-and-out horror, Do’s second feature film explores the class structure that is so much a part of Asian culture, where marrying “a white husband” is the answer to many Laotian women’s plight, and where the mutual distrust and disgust between the “haves” and the “have nots” is barely hidden from view. By leaving her village, Nok has become exposed to the physical trappings of privilege without possessing them herself, twisting the knife of envy.

Ana’s trances are shown as shadowy figures entering her limited field of vision, invading her personal space and literally whispering the means of wealth into her ear. Ana isn’t aware of repeating the lottery numbers aloud, nor of their significance, and Nok is careful not to share any information for fear that she will have to, well, share.

Given her background, this selfishness is understandable, even if it doesn’t show her in the best light, particularly in the scene where she gives incorrect numbers to Ana’s father, himself desperate for money to pay for his wife’s medical treatment following an accident, or when Nok refuses to send money home to her family, choosing instead to buy a smartphone.

It is Nok’s increasingly ruthless nature that gives Dearest Sister its teeth, with the household unit’s main players literally at each other’s throats by the final reel. Ana, who has everything money can buy, would give it all away for the simple gift of sight, while Nok blindly pushes away kindness and connection in pursuit of a better rung on the social ladder. It is a film that dares to put on price on family, love, and connection, finding them insufficient to achieve true happiness. Scary thought, indeed.


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