|THE MONKEY KID Reviews from the French Release|
Thursday, June 19, 1997
The very small children of Chairman Mao
The Monkey Kid A first film with a surprising fragmented structure
by Jean-Michel Frodon
This story unfolds itself in the strangest of situations, one most auspicious for the telling of a story with children: in China, during the Cultural Revolution, at the height of the political impact of the Maoist regime upon everyday life, at the time, too, when most intellectuals had been sent to the countryside for their "re-education."
A period of extreme freedom for the children of these intellectuals (happy or traumatizing, liberating autonomy or terror) within the fact of the parents' absence and also of the extreme constraint as the dictatorship at its peak particularly affects the intellectuals and their families.
In this framework the young director accumulates various episodes from the wish of the young heroine, a mischievous six year-old, to fly away, to the way of inscribing ideograms in the snow with her body; from a little boy's revolt without words against the totality of the system, to the defiance of the small daughters of intellectuals when faced with the aggression of workers' children who take advantage of the situation.
The Monkey Kid produces an odd effect: each scene rests on an idea which is interesting, evocative and beautiful in form. The cinematographer does not seem capable of filming any of these: nothing is embodied on the screen, no emotion emanates from these conflicts and from the moments of happiness invented in spite of the adult world, any more than from the unexpected return of little Shi-Wei's mother or that of her father. The things and the bodies are there but as though translucent.
WHAT TIES IT TOGETHER
Soon enough, however, there are indications which throw doubt on this weakness in the production without reconceiving it: between these flatly filmed sketches surge empty spaces; in the midst of these television takes appear shifting images. Then, the more the film progresses, the more the narrative plot gets undone, only to end in a succession of disjointed moments.
One perceives more clearly, then, how much the nature of this film is based on the linking of factors that are foreign to each other and which give it its unusual and eventually binding structure. On the one hand, the preponderance of memories (autobiographical or not) of the director. On the other hand, the precarious conditions on the margin of the official Chinese system in which Xiao-Yen Wang was constrained to work (she lives in the United States). From being thus as though thrown into relief, these traces of a past very personal yet inscribed in collective history acquire in the end an unforeseen force: that of memory itself.