Dir.: Mattie Do; Cast: Amphaiphun Phommapunya, Vilouna Phermany, Tambet Tusk, Manivanh Boulom; Laos/France/Estonia 2016, 100 min.
Laotian director Mattie Do’s claim to fame is that she has directed two of the thirteen films produced in her country. Genre-wise, DEAREST SISTER could be called a horror film, but it is much more: a ghostly treatise on family relations, class and colonialism.
Nok (Phommaphuna), a village girl, is called to the capital Vientiane to look after Ana (Permany), a distant relative, who lives with her Estonian husband Jacob (Tusk) in a splendid villa. Nok is supposed to help Ana, who is slowly going blind, but she uses her employer’s disability to her own advantage. The maid (Boulom) and her husband, the gardener, both despise Nok, who has a room in the house, whilst they have to sleep outside in a covered shelter. Soon we realise that Ana’s illness is not only physical: she can communicate with the dead but is often not able to differentiate between the ‘ghosts’, and real people. She also obtains numbers from the dead, which she relates to the materialistic Nok, who uses them successfully to play the lottery. Nok turns out to be a nasty piece of work, using her wages for clothes and glitzy objects instead sending the money – as promised – home to her poor family in the village. After Ana’s sight is saved by an operation, Nok fears that she will become redundant, and at the same time, the servants take their fate in their own hands: the long repressed conflicts of interest explode, setting up a violent denouement for all concerned.
Without resorting to a gore fest of slashing, jump-cuts or over-sensational horror elements, Do and her cinematographer Mart Ratassepp’s evoke a netherworld of menace where the horror is subdued but deadly– even the ghosts appear to be human as Ana’s state of mind enables her to slip between both worlds in a visually captivating tale of sexual politics. AS
SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 5-16 OCTOBER 2016