Qingyao’s words have an eerie resonance.
He is determined that his wife’s murder during the Cultural Revolution
will not be denied or forgotten by the guilty and embarrassed parties. Despite his personal pain, he documented his
family’s tragedy with remarkable thoroughness.
It is an acutely personal story, but one with national significance for
China that unfolds in Hu Jie’s Though I
Am Gone (trailer
which screens during MoMA’s Chinese Realities/Documentary Visions film series.
the Cultural Revolution, Beijing schools were the incubators of the
Unfortunately, Wang’s wife was a middle school vice principal in the
wrong city, at the wrong time. When the
Red Guards began terrorizing the country, their children followed their
lead. Even though Bian considered
herself a loyal Communist since before 1946, she was forced to endure physical
beatings and public humiliations on a daily basis. Fearing for her family’s safety, Bian
resigned herself to the torments. One
day, the students took it too far and rather than taking her to the hospital literally
one block away, they just threw her out like a sack of garbage.
husband was not on hand to witness the torture she endured. It only would have made things worse for
her. However, the trained journalist photographed
her battered body and saved evidence of her ordeal, including the blood and
excrement soaked clothes she wore during her final hours. Years later, an anonymous source came forward
to give him an exact accounting of the events.
Not surprisingly though, only Bian’s fellow victims agreed to
participate in Hu’s documentary.
a filmmaker, Hu’s approach is as simple and straight forward as it can be. Even eschewing soundtrack music, he focuses
his camera on Wang and his photographs, allowing the man to tell her story in
his own words. He also incorporates
archival recordings of the state sanctioned madness as well as personal
testimony from Bian’s colleagues.
of the need to bear witness, Wang Qingyao echoes sentiments often heard in
Holocaust survivors’ oral histories.
When he eventually produces a photo of the smoke coming from the chimney
of the crematorium where his wife’s remains were incinerated, the symmetry
becomes profoundly unsettling. While Hu
maintains an intimate focus on Bian’s story, he masterfully conveys a sense of
how truly representative it was of rampant, widespread horrors.
On a technical level, Though I Am Gone is a simple film, but it is emotionally
devastating. This is an incredibly brave
expose of events the Party would prefer to forget. Highly recommended for general audiences,
particularly including middle school aged students, Though I Am Gone (also distributed by dGenerate Films) screens this
coming Tuesday (5/28) and the following Saturday (6/1) as part of Chinese Realities at MoMA.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Chinese Realities, Cultural Revolution, Documentary