Friday, February 13, 2009

Not One Less

Yi ge dou bu neng shao; Drama, China, 1999; D: Zhang Yimou, S: Wei Minzhi. Zhang Huike, Tian Zhenda, Gao Enman, Sun Zhimei

The suburbs of Beijing. A teacher of an old school entrusts the 13-year old girl Wei Minzhi to take over his place for a month because he went to visit his sick mother. Wei also gets the promise from the mayor that she will get paid for her job as a substitute teacher. She is only a few years older than her students so she has troubles with authority while some man takes one of her students to place her in another school. One pupil is ditching school in order to work in town so Wei tries to buy a bus ticket to find him. She doesn't have enough money so she leaves by foot. He shows up on television so she finds him, while the school gets financial help.

Acclaimed director Zhang Yimou in gentle social drama "Not One Less" made a critique of the Chinese government and their management of peoples lives in the province, but in a very subtle, almost inappreciable way. The story about the 13-year old girl Wei Minzhi (played by herself) who takes over the role of the teacher even though she is only a few years older than the pupils in the class is crafted like a Chinese neorealist drama filled with amateur actors, made in a cheerful and optimistic way, but the poverty of their environment that suffocates them creates a bitter charge in the background. The most difficult scenes are surprisingly the ones that revolve around normal, everyday situations from life and create and emotional empathy with the viewers, like when Wei begs the pupils to lend her money for a bus ticket, when she shares 2 Coca-Cola cans among the class with 20 children or when the little boy announces how one can survive in the big city only through begging. A convincing tone, but without highlights - one shouldn't expect movie miracles from this film while many grown up actors end up as cliches. It's not that Yimou made something terribly wrong, but he didn't manage to make the story more intense than it is.


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