MIFF 2010 review: Petition

26 Jul

While the concept of China not treating its less powerful citizens badly may not be a revelation, the footage contained within this film certainly is. Filmed over 12 years, mostly in secret, by amazingly dedicated film-maker Zhao Liang, it follows the fate of a disparate group of Chinese seeking justice in Petition village (picture the ombudsmen’s office crossed with centrelink crossed with train station ticketing terminal and staffed by officious, young men, some teenagers; completely uncaring). Its Kafka-esque, it’s like banging your head against a brick wall and it’s incredibly sad. The people live in apocalyptic conditions and shanty-towns, too determined to return home, they live in squalor for years constantly dealing with police brutality and persecution by ‘retrievers’ (Mercenaries hired by district officials to bring them back -too many complaints reflects badly on a districts discipline).

We join Qi and Juan when Juan is 12 years old; by the end of the film she is in her mid-twenties with a young son. These people have no where else to take their claims, a poor indictment of China’s justice system which, if these cases are to be believed (and i believed them), favours the corrupt over the loyal communists and, so long as bribes are paid to the right people, gives no redress for wrongdoing. We had 10 walkouts in my session, reflecting the fact this is pretty gruelling stuff. Its not boring though, 12 years of footage distilled into two hours means that you are seeing only the most dramatic moments of an arduously slow and unending process. Don’t expect any happy resolutions.


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