I don’t think in all of my years of being a film lover that I have ever had a documentary jolt and jar me the way that Children Of The Mist did. This doco lulled me into a false sense of security and then delivered a moment so shocking and emotionally gut-wrenching that I think it will stay with me forever.
Directed by Ha Le Diem (Beautiful Bed) the doco follows the life of 13-year-old Di who lives in a small village in the Northern Highlands of Vietnam. In the beginning the film follows her everyday life – looking at what it is like at school and how she helps her parents on their farm. However, all throughout this time we see her and her friends joking about the fact that young girls are often ‘kidnapped’ and forced into marriage, in fact it is something that actually happened to Di’s own sister.
That turns into a dark foreshadowing of the second part of the doco. Early on it is easy to see that Di is friendly and flirty, yet very immature and unaware when it comes to men and boys. That friendly and flirty online nature soon turns sinister when a boy she has been chatting to online turns up during the New Year’s celebration and Di disappears.
There is simply no way to prepare yourself for the harsh moments of reality that you will see in the second half of this doco. In the best half at times it feels like you are watching the Vietnamese version of Big Brother set in a small village.
Diem shoots this like a fly-on-the-wall documentary and for the most part for the first half we see Di’s parents getting drunk with their friends while Di plays with her friends and talks about her friends. Then everything begins to fall away, we witness fights between Di and her mother and we see the frustration that her mother must endure with a husband that she claims is constantly drunk.
You are pulled into this world by the natural style of filmmaking that Diem brings to the screen and perhaps that is why the second half of this doco becomes so heart-breaking to watch. I won’t spoil what happens in the closing stages of this doco but I will warn you that it is at times very difficult to watch. I found myself at times wanting to look away but so invested in her story that I had to keep watching to see what happened to her. There are ten minutes of this documentary where I finally learnt what it means to watch something with your heart in your mouth. The realisation hits you like a sledgehammer when you finally come to terms with the fact that this is not manufactured Hollywood suspense that you are watching and that this is real life and somebody is actually going through the worst moment of their life while you watch on.
This at times is a very difficult doco to watch but at the same time it is a very important doco as well. If nothing else it will make you feel pleased that you live in a country like Australia where these kinds of barbaric things occur. Like I said it is not easy to watch but the payoff is certainly worth it.