looks like shepherding and dung collecting are the only forms of work available
in tiny Xi Yang Tang village. Yet,
somehow ten year old Yingying seems to do more than her fair share. The eldest of three sisters, she very
definitely lives in the Other China, far removed from go-go Shanghai and the
meddling Communist Party policy makers. Wang
Bing documents six months of their hardscrabble existence in the simply titled Three Sisters, which opens this
Friday at the Anthology Film Archives.
the eldest, Yingying naturally assumes responsibility for her younger siblings:
six year old Zhenzhen and four year old Fenfen.
Their mother deserted long ago and their father is often absent, fruitlessly
looking for work in the nearest urban center.
Aside from meals served by a resentful aunt, they practically live like
Dickensian street urchins.
Yingying’s grandfather asserts his patriarchal authority. Believing he has arranged work for his
recently returned son, he decides the two youngest will leave with their father
in the city and Yingying will live with him in the village. She will go to school and he will pay her
pocket money for her work in the fields.
Initially, this looks like a good opportunity for her, both in terms of
socialization and future opportunities.
However, it soon becomes clear tending the flock takes precedence over
her studies. The results are
she ought to be subject to child labor laws, but she lives in rural China. For obvious reasons, Wang never places
political considerations front and center.
Yet, the implications are conspicuously obvious and explicitly stated at
the annual feast Yingying attends with her grandfather. It is there the village headman explains the national
government is intent on collecting the health insurance premiums they cannot
afford. They are also determined to
continue with euphemistically titled “rural development” programs to replace
the villagers’ current mud-floored homes with prohibitively expensive new
units. They’re from the party—they’re
here to help.
of Three Sisters are guaranteed to
feel maddeningly helpless. Yingying is a
good kid who deserves better than her lot in life, but what can viewers
do? This is China, the new global superpower,
to whom our elected leaders have largely mortgaged our own futures. Nonetheless, Wang’s expose of shocking rural
inequality is thorough and compelling.
Sisters unquestionable serves
as an indictment of the government’s unfilled promises, but as a work of cinema
it is profoundly intimate. Granted,
patrons accustomed to multiplex fare will find the quiet pace and two and a
half hour running time challenging. Yet,
the simple power of Yingying’s story ought to hit anyone of good conscience on
a deeply human level. Recommended for
China watchers looking for a stiff shot of reality, Three Sisters opens this Friday (5/10) in New York at the Anthology
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Documentary, Wang Bing