Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mothers [2012]

MPAA (UR)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Official website

Mothers [2012] (directed by Hui Jing Xu) is a truly remarkable documentary made by the non-profit Chinese documentary film institute CNEX (website, Aug, 2013 NYTimes article).  The film played recently at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival.

Filmed in a small, unremarkable town called Ma somewhere in Northern China, the film is about the actual ENFORCEMENT of China's "One Child" birth control policy in this small town. 

Basically sometime around the time of former Chairman Mao's birthday -- shown celebrated in the town at a (converted?) traditional Buddhist-style shrine where Mao is venerated like a God (I'm not kidding DIVINE LANGUAGE IS LAVISHLY USED in both song by children and oration by elders) -- the "village committee" is given the yearly task of sterilizing a prescribed quota of women.

'Cept there's a problem this year.  While not impossible to meet the quota, the members of the village committe note (I'M AMAZED THAT THE FILM MAKER HAD THE ACCESS THAT HE DID) that to fulfill it this year would require the actual sterilization of the vast majority of the town/region's "qualified" women (women with already one child and not yet sterilized).  

Generally, "qualified women" are given a choice.  They could either undergo the sterilization procedure OR _pay a fine_ and simply accept a prescribed "birth control ring" (a type of IUD) with the question of sterilization pushed back for another year. 

However, the "higher ups" apparently had enough of giving the local women choices.  SO THIS YEAR sterilization was going to be pushed in this town and its environs.

And so it goes ... The documentary film-maker accompanies the local "health official" bureaucrats as they visit (and later, increasingly _track down_) the women in question.  He taping the bureaucrats as they nonchalantly talk about their business (Again, I'M AMAZED THAT THE FILM-MAKER WAS GIVEN THIS KIND OF ACCESS / CANDOR).

The bureaucrats joke about their work: "Remember the time back in the 1980s and we were directed to perform all those abortions on women violating the quota.  Yes, the 'religious types' (it turns out that there's actually a SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF CHRISTIANS IN THIS TOWN, something that's shown repeatedly throughout the documentary) were all crying and getting upset as we performed them.  Sometimes the child would half-come-out with arms and legs squirming.  But we'd just pull them out and throw them into the pit just the same ..."

The documentary eventually focuses on the health official bureaucrats attempts to track-down a particularly hard woman to find.  Her name was Rong-Rong.  They go to her house.  She's not there.  They go to her aunt's house.  She's not there.  They go to her mother's house outside of town.  She's not there either.  Frustrated, they sit down over tea to talk to Rong-Rong's mother and ask her how many kids SHE'S (Rong-Rong's mother's) had.  She answers five.  "Five! That must have been a lot of work."  "Not really," she answers matter of factly,  "At least the kids weren't lonely and I have children now to take care of me."

And there it is ...

As hard as the local officials try to get their quota (and eventually they do) it's clear that nobody really believes in their project.  It's just what "the higher ups" ask that they do.  And if they fulfill their quota, the "higher ups" presumably would "be happy," something which would be important to ambitious or just spineless bureaucrats.

The documentary ends, noting that in 2011 the Chinese government has decided that beginning in 2015, the "one child policy" will officially become a "two child policy."  So all those women being sterilized were being sterilized to no end.  But "a quota" needed to be fulfilled ...

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