Often in “All About My Sisters,” the Chinese filmmaker Wang Qiong’s documentary portrait of her family, you might forget that what you’re watching is filtered through a camera. Over a period of seven years, Wang filmed her parents, siblings and relatives from within the emotional thicket of their lives, capturing moments of piercing, private intimacy. Her approach yields a film bristling with the kind of familial rancor that usually only emerges behind closed doors.
There’s plenty to warrant this bitterness, starting with the fact that Wang’s younger sister, Zhou Jin, was abandoned as a newborn before being retrieved and then given to an uncle to raise. That was in the 1990s, when the combination of China’s one-child policy and a widespread cultural preference for sons had tragic consequences. As we learn over the course of the film’s epic (yet impressively brisk-moving) three-hour arc, Jin’s is one of the many stories of abandoned babies, sex-selective abortions and female infanticide that haunt Wang’s family history.
Wang is neither a staid observer nor a formal interviewer, but an active participant in the scenes she captures, often intervening gently from behind her hand-held camera. “Have you ever thought that induced abortion is horrible to baby girls?” she asks her older sister, Wang Li, whose husband is desperate for a male heir. Li’s response is simple but profound: “The world is horrible to us, too. Every move is a risk.”At times, Wang’s candor can be unsettling: I wondered about the ethics of her unflattering portrayal of Jin, who is seen being cruel to her toddler, as if re-enacting her own traumas. In such moments, “All About My Sisters” teeters discomfitingly between the personal and the political, revealing how little separates the two.
All About My Sisters
Not rated. In Mandarin, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 54 minutes. In theaters.