It is a common notion amongst many people that the discussion while having some food or smoke is probably the most honest outburst of their inner thoughts. Shengze Zhu shows the truth of this sometime vague notion and justifies it entirely. Another Year is a 2016 documentary take on a Chinese family of migrants from the rural areas to Wuhan, the urban monster construction sites and industry. The film unfolds in real time about thirteen dinners of the family in thirteen consecutive months starting from Chinese New Year and paints the intra family relationships, their mutual understanding, friction and joy all during those dinners.
In the opening month of January, the principal characters are introduced, the family of five and the grandmother; the man is a daily wage worker, the woman does part time work. The eldest child is a girl in her teens and the middle one is a girl below ten and the youngest a boy of two/three. The paternal grandmother of the children is an irritable old lady who loves to sit and sometimes boss around, giving instructions to her daughter-in-law about taking care of the children, who is visibly irritated with her. But it is her only who takes care of the old lady when she suffers from a stroke; though her tone and attitude is nowhere near polite. The elder daughter is like a typical teenager; one can see her different shades during the course of the year, her friendliness, her attraction towards different products, her joy on her father giving her money, her refusal to accept her families’ financial stringency. The younger daughter was quieter, almost sometimes in a different world of her own with her doll or sometimes the spoon being a part of her utopia. The youngest, a boy, is a thing of beauty; he shouts, cries, laughs and plays according to his will, everyone tending to him, showing his value and place in everyone’s hearts. The father is a working man, mostly inquiring about their activities; only in a humourous mood when he is in his village home, playing with the toddler. The mother of three is complaining about things almost all the time, when she is not busy bringing food or managing the turbulent toddler.
During the course of the film, their day to day activities are discussed, the problems come to surface, but the solutions are not that easy. Within a few months, at the onset of spring, the grandmother suffers a stroke and the mother with the two younger kids went back to her village to take care of her, leaving the elder daughter and her father in Wuhan. They talk about her father’s wages, her school, his trips to some nearby places for work, her interest to buy some expensive items and many other tit-bits of their hard life. While in the village, the mother struggles to take care of the ailing mother-in-law, the little dreamer and the toddler. In the dinner time conversations, as in a normal family, various subjects creep up, some wanted, some private, ranging from a woman’s disagreement with her colleague, to a villager’s daughter’s second pregnancy, everything. In this matter, the film presents the reality of China’s one child policy, how its implementation is not as effective as the government claims, how people have their ways around the policy, migrating to various places to get away from curious eyes.
Shengze Zhu uses a static camera in all the shots, thirteen of which are used in the whole film, each for one dinner in a month. Though the camera is static for each shot/dinner, the angle and position is always different, as if signifying that each time we come to know something new about the family, their struggles and their joys. Filmed entirely in real time, we witness a monotonicity of their lives, the struggle throughout their lives and one is forced to think beyond just the dinner to the hardship they have to undergo for getting that food into the table. The film starts with the Chinese New Year and ends in the next New Years’ Eve. For everyone, New Year signifies new hope, new beginning and new happiness, but will that happen to this family? Will they have a new hope next year or is it going to be just another year of suffering and hardships.
Film Score: 85
Director: Shengze Zhu Cinematography: Zhengfan Yang Editing: Shengze Zhu
(viewed in MUBI on May,2017)