Oct 22, 2007

Konangal Outreach Programme screening on 28th Oct 2007 : Not One Less

Run time: 109 min / year: 1999 / Chinese with English sub titles / On 21st Oct 2007 at 6 PM at Aruna Thirumana Mandapam , Opp Spencer Super Market, NSR Road, SB Colony / Contact : Call :4376226 ; 9443039630

Not One Less

Yimou Zhang’s "Not One Less" enlarges the possibilities of filmmaking even as it grounds itself in one of cinema's oldest, most basic principles: the camera's ability to document reality. Despite its deliberate austerity, "Not One Less" is extraordinarily rich. And despite the look and pace of raw documentary film, the movie is a splendid, assured piece of storytelling. Its narrative emerges slowly and organically from a mass of observed detail so that it feels like a series of events the camera has discovered out in the world, rather than like the realization of a scheme the filmmaker has devised beforehand in his mind.

At the center of "Not One Less" is Wei (Wei Minzhi), 13, a primary school graduate who has been pressed into service as a substitute teacher in the Shuiquan Primary School. The teacher leaves one stick of chalk for each day and promises her an extra 10 yuan if there's not one less student when he returns. Wei stands a few inches taller than her charges, and it is hard not to hear more than a trace of irony in their voices when they address her, according to the dictates of courtesy and custom, as "Teacher Wei."

Her main qualifications, other than the fact that no one else wants the job, are an innate, unsmiling bossiness, neat handwriting and her ability to perform, in a tentative, quavering voice, one song about Chairman Mao. Wei Minzhi's performance, if that is the word for it, slowly takes on a heroic cast. Her character is composed of equal parts pigheadedness and cluelessness, which is to say that she's 13 in a way that anyone who knows a real 13-year-old, or has been one, will recognize. When troublemaker Zhang Huike manages to runs away from school, forced to try to find work in the nearby city of Zhangjiakou to support his ailing, debt-ridden mother, Wei has a mission: to get to the city, recover Zhang,.

The neorealist elements of Not One Less contribute to its ability to transcend the sentimental. All of the actors in the film are amateurs. Moreover, most play a version of who they are in real life: the mayor is actually Tian Zhengda, a village mayor; the TV station manager is, in fact, the manager of a local station in Zhangjiakou. The two central children, Wei Mingzhi and Zhang Huike, who play characters of the same name, were found in rural Hebei schools after a long search by the director and his team. This semidocumentary aspect of Not One Less—its use of hidden cameras (during Wei’s interactions with crowds in the city, for example), location shooting, and natural lighting—results in a fascinating uncertainty. There is a sort of ambivalence or play between the different genres of realism, staged documentary, and fiction that is reminiscent of recent masterpieces of Iranian cinema (Makhmalbaf and Kiarostami being the two most prominent exponents) "Not One Less" earns its emotional payoff the hard way. It may be the greatest film ever made about obstinacy, which it reveals to be not only a virtue, but also a species of grace.

This screening is supported by : HOLLYWOOD DVD SHOPEE , NSR Road, Coimbatore ; Ph 4382331 , : 98416 58466

Yimou Zhang

Zhang was born in Xi’an in 1951 to parents of "bad" class background and reportedly sold his own blood to buy his first camera. He grew up in socialist China where class struggle dominated life and literature. Like many young Chinese of the time, he was sent to farms and factories during the Cultural Revolution and so gained grass-roots knowledge of life in China. His portfolio of photographs helped win him admission to the cinematography department of the Beijing Film Academy in 1978, after successfully appealing a decision to bar him on the basis of age..

Zhang's first work, One and Eight (as director of photography), was made in 1984 together with Zhang Junzhao. Zhang's input was telling: he shot from obscure angles, and positioned actors and actresses at the side, rather than center, to heighten dramatic effect, using a “unique and emphatic visual style, based on the asymmetrical and unbalanced composition of the shots and the shooting of color stock as though it were black and white". Like his fellow students, these aesthetics signaled a departure from the tradition interrupted by the Cultural Revolution. Local critics immediately sat up and took notice of this new cohort of daring artistes who were defying conventions of Chinese cinema.

In 1985, in appreciation of his talent, Fourth Generation director Wu Tianming invited Zhang to Xi'an Film Studio for his upcoming project Old Well. Filming of Old Well was completed in 1986, with Zhang as co-acting as cinematographer and actor — a role that won him Best Actor at the Tokyo International Film Festival. In return for his participation in Wu's project, Zhang made Wu promise logistics support for his own first directorial effort, a project that he had envisioned for some time.

In 1987 Zhang embarked on his directorial debut, Red Sorghum, starring Chinese actress Gong Li, handpicked by Zhang, in her first leading role. Released to widespread critical acclaim, Red Sorghum catapulted Zhang into the forefront of the world's art directors, winning him the Golden Bear for Best Picture at the 1988 Berlin Film Festival. He has directed 17 films till date.

Nevertheless, we could say that Zhang Yimou himself is a son of China whose filmmaking gazes at past, present and future through the "son". In this sense, generation and gender are equally important in his films although the visual and often spectacular focus is on his female leads. Gong Li is his most famous star and his pictures with her are his most famous films. His propensity for visual display has been fiercely criticised in China for its exoticism and lack of historical authenticity. However, Zhang does not claim that his films document China or its people; he creates fictional worlds through moving images that often defamiliarise, shock, seduce, and subvert. He documents desire instead, circulating themes that have long haunted the national psyche and using seductive image-ideas that marry reality, dream and nightmare.

No comments: