WEEKLY APPRECIATION || Not One Less
This week I got the chance to watch my first Zhang Yimou film, and it is 'Not One Less'.
I thought about summarising the film in one word, but I seem to never settle on one in particular. Not One Less is a touching film, a visually beautiful film and a film that successfully portrayed the importance of education in rural and poor areas of China.
Not One Less, a 1999 drama film, revolves around a 13 years old substitute teacher, Teacher Wei, as she teaches in Shuiquan Primary School. She is the heroin of the movie, but not like every movie, she is not special, Wei is ordinary... Very ordinary. Her only qualifications is that no one else wants the job, good handwriting and knows one song about chairman Mao.
As I watched the film I eagerly waited for her to blossom into a life changing teacher, However, this is not this kind of film. Everything is very subtle, it is satisfying to watch the story unfold and not attempt to be over the top.
The characters in the film were played by amateur actors, well to be more accurate they are not actors. They are individuals that had similar occupations in real life to the characters in the film. For instance, Teacher Wei is played by a middle school student and her real name is Wei Minzhi. And same goes for all actors in Not One Less. I was very confused when I checked the IMDb page of the film, to find every character sharing the same name with the actor.
The reason why actual actors weren't used for this production, is so the film would feel more realistic and documentary-like. The film's style is neorealist, which involves a lot of hidden cameras and natural lighting.
I enjoyed the storytelling in the film, and how it made me appreciate something as none existent anymore as chalk. Teacher Gao's careness toward the chalk he owns, and how he tells Wei to only use one a day, makes you realised how fortunate we, the viewers, are. So when the chalk gets broken and stamped on, it feels like something extremely bad happened. And Wei's non-existent reaction to the broken chalk surprised me, I thought she would value chalk at least a little after Teacher Gao's instructions.
The story illustrated the environment poor areas of the country have to teach children in and the difficulties they would face. The school is 45 years old and looked very "worn-out." It consisted of one classroom and a small room for the teacher to stay at - which they had to share with some of the students. Due to the village being small, far away from the city and poor there were no investments put into maintaining the place, and students tended to leave one by one to find jobs and provide for their families.
The title it itself 'Not One Less' highlights the main theme, and it is a reflection of the promise Wei made to Teacher Gao - that all students will still remain after he comes back. It addresses the issue of rural children leaving school, which at the end of the film it mentioned that one million students from rural areas drop out of school every year - Director Zhang Yimou believed it was three times that number.
The ending was criticised for being "A Happy Ending" and the movie overall didn't really illustrate the dangers that the little boy, Zhang Huike, could/should have faced when he was lost in the city. I can't blame Zhang Yimou for toning the film down, as he was closely monitored by censors that demanded him not to show China as too poor and too backward.
Personally, the ending didn't bother me and I did like it. The film wants to deliver a message and it successfully achieved that. If the ending was sad, it wouldn't inspire individuals to help spread and maintain education in rural areas. A sad ending would most likely drive people to lose hope and not even attempt at solving the problem.