Qiong Wong’s All About My Sisters has a scope larger than just capturing the director and producer’s two titular sisters, Jin and Li, and that scope is necessary in depicting the complex family dynamic in which the three young women live. The three sister came into the world in the 90s, when China implemented its one child policy. And it’s a miracle that all three women know each other in a country where families preferred male sons over female ones. The Wangs kept Li and Qiong, aborted four daughters, and tried to abort Jin. When that failed, they left her in an orangery for a week before her aunt and uncle decided to adopt her. This story then, doesn’t just capture these women but also the two sets of parents raising them.
Qiong makes some interesting juxtapositions and choices involving when to include and frame Jin and her family. Sometimes, all she shows is a black screen where she and her mother talk about the horrific scenes the latter has to witness. One of these aural scenes include a dumpster in a hospital with aborted female fetuses. Stories like this emphasize how trauma can pass through generations. And these stories can manifest visually even if those images didn’t directly traumatize those future generations. The next scene this is of Jin running errands. It’s a seemingly innocuous image. But it its viewers of the girls who would be alive today had their parents had that choice.
The family doesn’t just consist of those two sets of parents and the three women they have to raise. One of its newest members is the son that the Wangs theoretically were expecting, Sifan. That is, of course, until he has to endure his pre-teen slacker phase to his father’s chagrin. The father starts out with regular scolding but he eventually starts telling his son things that can put any son into decades of therapy. Qiong uses minimalistic methods here, like plopping down a camera and capturing members of her family through long takes. But sometimes, if not often, the most minimal methods work. She places the camera far enough to have her family out of reach.
The whole ‘one image can say a thousand words’ adage applies here. And a few more, one after another, can say a thousand more. Those images, after all, depict a family trying to be together even as a country tried to tear them apart. Some moments bring levity and happiness to a otherwise depressing film, like a scene with Li feeding her baby daughter Mengzhe on the street. Others show how each member try to bring normalcy to a less than normal situation, as Jin starts to work in the Wang’s photo studio. Life always gets in the way, like an injury or a wedding. And Qiong follows her family, she shows that public policy has its devastating personal effects.
All About My Sisters comes to OVID on December 7.