Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Please Vote for Me
Please Vote for Me
(trailer available above)
Directed by Weijun Chen, China/South Africa, 2007
32 minutes (excerpt); 58 minutes (full-length)
I watched "Please Vote for Me" on Wholphin no. 6 (a DVD magazine of rare and unseen short films, if anyone is unfamiliar) and only just now saw that the version I saw is in fact an excerpt of the full-length version. However, I remembered from one of the readings that one person's definition of a short film was a film under 70 minutes long, a criterion which this film's full-length version fits. Also, I thought it might be interesting to probe into the notion of the presentation of a short film: can an excerpt of a longer film be considered a short in and of itself, or is it inextricably tied to the longer version? Can a film's excerpt be a stand-alone short film just because it has been presented as such by, in this case, Wholphin's compilers? Just something to think about. In this post, I'm going to discuss the 32-minute version of "Please Vote for Me" as a stand-alone film since I have not seen the longer version.
"Please Vote for Me" is about a third-grade class in Wuhan, China, who are about to have their first democratic election of Class Monitor. The essence of the film can pretty much be summed up in the first 30 seconds or so. The text "Who would you vote for as President of the World?" appears on the screen, and this is followed by an interview of two young girls, one of whom is asked "what is democracy?" and the other of whom is asked "what does it mean to vote?" Both girls seem completely unfamiliar with these terms, the first responding, "I don't know. What does it mean?" and the other repeating, "To vote?" with a perplexed look.
The film focuses on the children in the class through the course of the election, but it's not only about them: it's also about their parents. In China, where families are only allowed to have one child, that child more or less becomes the center of their world. We are shown the home lives of all three candidates for Class Monitor, and each one shows overbearing parents who are completely and utterly emotionally invested in the Class Monitor race. When Cheng Cheng tells his parents he wants to drop out of the race, for example, his mother's response is, "Quit? No, you can't! Don't you want to be like President Hu Jingtao? Class Monitor is only the first step. Are you out of your mind?"
Here's where the "Who would you vote for as President of the World?" opening becomes relevant. For the kids in the class, the Class Monitor election might as well be the President of the World election. As third-graders, their class is their only world outside of the home, and they take the election incredibly seriously. The candidates buy off supporters with promises to appoint them to other class positions; they conspire to sabotage opponents' speeches, as when Cheng Cheng pressures a classmate to yell "It's terrible!" when Xiaofei gives her speech; they mobilize voters to stand up to the incumbent candidate's unjust treatment of them, such as Luo Lei's penchant for beating disobedient classmates; they employ negative campaign tactics, as when each candidate compiles lists of the other candidates' faults to use against them. But we laugh when we watch "Please Vote for Me." Why is this? For third-graders, these kids are surprisingly astute politicians, and their tactics pretty much mirror those of real (adult) politicians; maybe herein lies the humor. Chen seems to treat the adults and the kids in the film with an equal amount of respect, which makes this more like a true political documentary than a cutesy documentary about children.