Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Petition

Sad and sobering account of human-rights violations in modern-day China.

Jan 14, 2011

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/159552-Petition_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Petition is a stark document about a handful of Chinese people who are bravely but futilely trying to protest their government’s harsh treatment of their families. Director Zhao Liang lets his subjects—and his images—make the point that major reforms are badly needed in his home country. The question remains whether his film will find an audience that truly cares.

Most of Petition focuses on a few case histories that Zhao filmed over a period of 12 years (starting in the mid-1990s), but they come to represent a larger number of heroic individuals who have been valiantly fighting against the Chinese government’s bureaucracy in a “petition” system that almost never works. Whether they are attempting to clear or correct a record or register a grievance, these provincial citizens rarely get satisfaction and spend months or even years of their lives ostracized in Beijing’s squatty “Petition Village” in order to make their case.

Petition isn’t the first film to illustrate injustices in modern China (see China Blue for its powerful look at the world of sweatshops), nor is it the first Chinese film to be shot secretly and smuggled out of the country. But Zhao Liang does a thorough and credible job as both filmmaker and activist. Petition is long (at over two hours) but rarely dull, as we become increasingly involved in such stories as a woman and her daughter trying to clear their name against charges the mother killed her husband.

Like Frederick Wiseman, Zhao finds the Kafkaesque absurdity of institutions. Unlike Wiseman’s “purer” cinéma-vérité approach, we hear the director ask questions (and even give advice) from behind the camera. By necessity, Zhao films the scenes at the Petition office surreptitiously—and the hidden camera records some physically brutal treatment of the petitioners by the police and guards. The occasional intertitles are helpful, though it becomes difficult to figure out whether conditions are getting better or worse since the timeline is not explicit.

In any case, Petition has at least as much value as a report from Human Rights Watch or a similar organization. Let’s hope it makes a difference where it matters.


Film Review: Petition

Sad and sobering account of human-rights violations in modern-day China.

Jan 14, 2011

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/159552-Petition_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Petition is a stark document about a handful of Chinese people who are bravely but futilely trying to protest their government’s harsh treatment of their families. Director Zhao Liang lets his subjects—and his images—make the point that major reforms are badly needed in his home country. The question remains whether his film will find an audience that truly cares.

Most of Petition focuses on a few case histories that Zhao filmed over a period of 12 years (starting in the mid-1990s), but they come to represent a larger number of heroic individuals who have been valiantly fighting against the Chinese government’s bureaucracy in a “petition” system that almost never works. Whether they are attempting to clear or correct a record or register a grievance, these provincial citizens rarely get satisfaction and spend months or even years of their lives ostracized in Beijing’s squatty “Petition Village” in order to make their case.

Petition isn’t the first film to illustrate injustices in modern China (see China Blue for its powerful look at the world of sweatshops), nor is it the first Chinese film to be shot secretly and smuggled out of the country. But Zhao Liang does a thorough and credible job as both filmmaker and activist. Petition is long (at over two hours) but rarely dull, as we become increasingly involved in such stories as a woman and her daughter trying to clear their name against charges the mother killed her husband.

Like Frederick Wiseman, Zhao finds the Kafkaesque absurdity of institutions. Unlike Wiseman’s “purer” cinéma-vérité approach, we hear the director ask questions (and even give advice) from behind the camera. By necessity, Zhao films the scenes at the Petition office surreptitiously—and the hidden camera records some physically brutal treatment of the petitioners by the police and guards. The occasional intertitles are helpful, though it becomes difficult to figure out whether conditions are getting better or worse since the timeline is not explicit.

In any case, Petition has at least as much value as a report from Human Rights Watch or a similar organization. Let’s hope it makes a difference where it matters.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

The Devils Violinist
Film Review: The Devil's Violinist

The latest classical-music legend to have his life trashed–again—by a cheaply sensationalistic movie, this famed fiddler deserved way better. More »

Backstreet Boys
Film Review: Backstreet Boys: Show 'Em What You're Made Of

The ’90s boy band dusts itself off for a self-congratulatory, and not especially revelatory, career retrospective on the occasion of their 20th anniversary tour. More »

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts 2015
Film Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Documentary

The long shadow and in-your-face reality of mortality shadows nearly all the entries in this year’s powerful, draining Oscar-nominated documentary short films program. More »

Film Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Live- Action

This year’s program of Oscar-nominated live-action short films is longer on character and short on cute. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Project Almanac
Film Review: Project Almanac

Saying this underbaked Chronicle knockoff is meant for teenagers is an insult to the intelligence of teenagers everywhere. More »

The Wedding Ringer
Film Review: The Wedding Ringer

Intermittently amusing bro-comedy trifle that confirms Kevin Hart's talent, though not his taste in material. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here