Do not watch Another Year if you are hungry. The film is 181 minutes long and the people in it never stop eating. It is almost like a proletarian version of The Exterminating Angel (Bunuel, 1962), but instead of portraying posh guests that believe they cannot leave the room, Zhu chose to document a poor family in China.
The film consists of just 13 takes, one a month, in which three children, a mother, a father and a grandmother watch TV, while they are eating. They also argue a lot. In February the mother-in-law succumbs to a stroke and the family routine is broken. Both parents cannot work at the same time, so the mother goes to the rural area with the two younger kids and the sick woman, while father remains working in the city with the teen girl. She is still studying, but soon will suffer pressure to leave school and start working as well.
It becomes clear that there is cruelty in family life. The way mother treats mother-in-law is somewhat disturbing. Another Year presents an aspect of cinematography people sometimes forgets: the audience is passive and powerless.
The director uses a steady camera and changes the point-of-view each month. An aristocratic family in London would be horrified: they do not shut their mouths while eating, they make a lot of noise, they keep a bowl under the table in which they throw unwanted food. They even can sneeze and swallow at the same time. They don’t seem very concerned with hygiene.
It’s June and a hen enters the room. They are all now in the rural area, as work for them is seasonable. There is no job in the factories until the end of the year. Family has discussed a case in the neighborhood. A woman disobeyed The Family Planning Commission and is pregnant of the second child. Will people in the village tell her to move on? Can she hide? Can she tell the Commission she found the baby on the streets? Or will she risk an illegal abortion?
Although China has moved a long way in the eyes of the rest of the world – the country ranked second for capital investment (according to FDI supremacy) -, this documentary exposes the contradictions of an unplanned population growth. Progress and equality do not walk at the same pace.
Sometimes it looks like insanity still prevails in some rural areas of China. Family rules are still very rigid. Because of the One Child Policy, China will have about 30 million more men than women by 2020, according to a report by China’s State Population and Family Planning Commission. Until 2003, couples seeking divorce required written permission from employers or neighborhood committees. Shengzhe Zhu’s steady camera is as rigid and firm as the society captured through the lens.
Another Year is showing this week as part of the Open City Documentary Film Festival in London – check our calendar here for more information about the event.
You can watch the film trailer here: