are not “Reborn” in a physical or religious sense. This is strictly a
bureaucratic designation for the “substitute” children allowed to parents who
lost their first and legally only child in the horrific Sichuan Earthquake.
They are already a sizeable and growing demographic. U.S. based Beichuan native
Zijian Mu follows the lasting repercussions of the Sichuan quake for one set of
parents fortunate enough to have a Reborn child and two grieving mothers who
for various reasons remain childless in One Child (trailer here), listed as one of the year's best documentary short subjects, which screens this
Monday as part of the Oscar Buzz series at the Maysles Documentary Center.
of the estimated ninety thousand Sichuan fatalities, about five thousand are
thought to be school children, nearly all of whom were “single children,” as
per government policy. Of course, exact figures are unavailable due to state
censorship. Many surviving parents have tried to plug the holes in their hearts
with an allowable “Reborn” child. Jiang Hongyou and Fu Guangjun were duly
blessed with a little girl whom they understandably dote upon. She is now old
enough to recognize photos of her big brother, but they are waiting until she
is a few years older to explain his heartbreaking fate. It is the kind of
tricky parenting question luckier parents of New Beichuan will grapple with
more and more.
Jianfen would dearly wish to be a similar position. Still mourning her
teen-aged daughter, but no longer able to conceive, she yearns to adopt.
However, her increasingly cold and passive aggressive husband Fang Yanggui will
not cooperate with her efforts, particularly when it comes to the requisite
fees. Old Fang might be cold and insensitive to his wife’s needs, but his
concerns about money are not completely unwarranted. After all, the Communist
government only loaned the 8,000 Yuan down-payments for displaced residents’
replacement flats in shiny New Beichuan. So much for: “to each according to
Fang’s lack of support, Yang continues to pursue avenues of adoption, but that
is no longer an option for the older Gu Jiazhen. She lost her grown daughter
and husband during the earthquake. Although her grandchild survived, she no
longer has access to him after her son-in-law’s remarriage. Instead, the pious
convert takes what solace she can from Buddhism. She certainly does not receive
any comfort from the state.
Mu’s family was also touched by the Sichuan tragedy, so he well understands the
raw emotions at play. His treatment of surviving parents is unflaggingly
sensitive, but still acutely penetrating. Mu does not ignore the wider political
context, but Reborn is still probably
best seen in conjunction with more macro-focused films like Alpert & O’Neill’s
previously shortlisted China’s Unnatural Disaster and Ai Weiwei’s muckraking Disturbing the Peace and So Sorry, both of
which are findable online (except maybe in China). Nor does he ghoulishly dwell
on the horrors of the actual catastrophe, even though he incorporates some
harrowing footage of the chaotic aftermath.
Indeed, the forty minute documentary packs a
powerful punch because of its concentration on the traumatized parents. Highly
recommended for general audiences and Academy members, One Child screens this coming Monday (1/5) at the Maysles Center,
followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker.
Labels: Documentary, Short Films, Sichuan Earthquake