Archive for February, 2010
Please Vote for Me
Posted by The Amateur Critics Guild on February 14, 2010
Director: Weijun Chen
Language: Mandarin (English Subtitles)
Runtime: 58 minutes
Plot: Democracy in China exists, that is, in a primary school in Wahun where a grade 3 class can vote who they want as class monitor.
Disclaimer: The following might read as a bunch of yapping nonsense but we promise we are going to get better. I mean, holy thumbs, give us a break. — ACG
I believe that Please Vote for Me has some great qualities and some poor qualities. Before I go any further, though, I would like to say that I would recommend this movie to anyone. The subject matter (the high point) is extremely interesting, even if the style of the movie leaves room for improvement. I believe that the director had a very clear vision of the message that he wanted to present while making this movie.
The film showed us three levels of participation in the democratic process: the candidates, their campaign teams (in this case, their parents), and the constituents (the candidate’s fellow classmates). Even in such a meaningless vote (for class monitor), we see these outrageous characters and stereotypes which we, here in the United States are accustomed to seeing on every level (local, state, federal). To me, it was eye-opening to see the same tired stereotypes unearthed. To be frank, it was a little bit disturbing.
The message is never unclear, and the documentary never waivers from the theme. I believe that is this movie’s strong point, and is the reason that I would recommend it. The children clearly have very little concept of democracy, and the adults even seem unable to explain it beyond a high level “It means that you have a voice” statements, and this is where the message shines. The children have never experienced democracy in action, but they all fall right into the actions that we would recognize as “politics.” I believe that Weijun Chen did an excellent job of saying what he wanted to say, and doing it in just under an hour.
But doesn’t the subject warrant exploration for longer than just 30 minutes?
I don’t think so. I think a longer inspection would have either lost the viewer’s attention or it might have suffered from coming off self-righteous.
I think it would depend on how it was approached. Judging from the style of the rest of the film, I think that the director and editor were right to make it the length that it is. I don’t know that the style would have held the audience’s attention for any greater amount of time.
On the technical side of things, this documentary is not bad. To this untrained eye, the shots work, and I had a good feeling of space inside the school. It would have been nice to have a few more shots that showed the surrounding areas so that viewers could get more of an idea of the layout and size of the city in which the children live, Wahun, but I realize that the focus was not the city, but the children.
I completely agree that the kids’ entire environment is what influences them and their ideals. These ideals are the foundation of how they choose to run his/her campaign.
However, I’m not impressed with other elements of the documentary genre. We don’t really get a viewpoint or voice from the other side (parents, administrators, etc.). Yes the movie is about the kids, but those kids have been placed into this situation by those around them and understanding why these kids or why make this change in the selection process. A documentary should give me the theme and all sides to it.
It was nice to see the homes of the children, and see how they dress and act at home with their parents (whitey tighties!), because you get the kind of insight into who they are that you would not get from the interactions with their peers.
It would have been a huge flaw if we did not see the candidates’ parents. These interactions really showed what kind of clout external powers can have on the campaign’s centerpiece and it also shows what are possibly the motivations of the contenders.
The parents help to make the children who they are in a huge way, too, but this leads me to one of my gripes about the film.
This problem is inherent to most documentaries, but I just cannot help but bring it up for this movie. It is the old problem of observation changing the subject’s behavior. I cannot help but think about how differently the adults in the movie would have acted without a camera watching. My question is, did the parents act the way that they did for the camera hoping that they would not look foolish or look like bad parents?
The three students’ personalities stand out from one another very well in the movie. Children seem to give a purer view of reality in front of the camera than adults, and these children are no exception.
That statement right there just hits the nail on the head so hard it hurts.
Overall, I was not very impressed with this film as a documentary because it did not take me any where I had not already been at the start of the film. The film started with a goal of high expectations and didn’t seem to follow through as well as the subject would have allowed.
I, on the other hand, thought the movie accomplished what it set out to do. Again, as I said before, this movie really gives you an unsettling viewpoint of the democratic process.
A follow-up at the end of the film to learn the students’ thoughts as well as those of the teacher and parents would have added more depth to a film that was pursuing a “revolutionary” idea. Truly the best element of the film was, as William pointed out, the natural progression of the characters in becoming stereotypes and following practices that most people who generally participate in democracy dislike (bribes, name calling, spreading rumors, etc.).
I agree with both of you. From a technical and plot standpoint, I believe that the movie is lacking. The cinematography is just ok, only showing us what we need to see, but in no interesting way.
Yeah give me something more than just standard viewpoint.
The characters are wonderful, in my opinion, but the story surrounding them does not seem to go as far as it needs to. I do believe that some kind of short interview with the kids at the end would have furthered the theme. But who knows, maybe they did the interviews and they did not fit with the rest of the documentary.
I did get a lot out of the film. The director really kept the theme of the movie on track and hammered home what he wanted to say. The cheating, bribing, and manipulation are very familiar, and, as you put it, Will, “disturbing.”