This is an emotional piece that is presented in black and white in a fly-on-the-wall style with narration throughout by the main character Jessa.
In addition to the Black and White footage, we are given an unexpected and beautiful animated papercraft introduction that helps narrate the backstory. The visuals are a great touch.
The writer and director Elisa Gambino draws heavily on her previous experience as a journalist with this one and it is clear to see she is invested in exploring kindness and humanity as a priority.
Jessa is the sister of a boy named Jon Jon Jarry born with a cleft palette, a birth defect that for most is a simple surgery to correct that many live with. But living in the Philippines it is culturally unacceptable, especially among the older generations.
After her parents choose to have nothing to do with the baby she assumes full responsibility for her sibling while only a child herself.
Instead of condemning the culture Elisa chooses to focus on the tender relationship between the brother and sister. Elisa documents the family in their humble home set in the vegetation as they go about daily life.
We join the pair ready to embark on a life-changing event, Jon Jon Jarry is now 13 and half years old and Elisa gives us front-row seats to watch as they travel to the province for surgery. His sister is with him every step of the way and by his bedside the moment he awakes.
There are some fabulous inserts and cutaways that show village life in general, highlighting the distinctly different way of life. We have the backdrop of the city in the distance contrasting with the village and shots of traffic and sleeping dogs complement the pace.
We learn that Jessa is a caring and hard-working mother we see how much she has to contend with. She explains in her narration that her friend who also suffered from the same defect helped her secure the free surgery.
As the two talk, we hear how Jessa’s older sister was informed of the surgery’s success and wasn’t interested, something that in our culture is tough to process and saddening to hear.
Throughout Jessa makes commentary that tugs on the hardest of heartstrings. She mentions Jon Jon Jarry’s desire to look like everybody else very early on and how one of his first questions post-surgery was an inquiry into why his parents had never taken him, especially as it was free.
The whole thing is shot with no interference, acting, or scripting and so we are treated to a first-hand intimate look at the love of a big sister in the sincerest of ways.
The film ends as it begins with the children dancing and enjoying life as they should.