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'One Child' Documentary Film Review - Poignant, Visual, Emotion Evoking

By Jill Dale

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One Child by Zijian Mu film poster

The aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake in China includes the severe emotional devastation of parents who lost their sole child and were left utterly grief-stricken.  The “consequences of the long-implemented one-child policy emerge poignantly on top of the unspeakable loss.” 

Still image from documentary film, One Child

This touching documentary, on the 2015 Oscars shortlist for Documentary Short Subject, opens with footage of two parents desperately trying to lift tons of cement, which collapsed on top of their child.  The gut wrenching footage of the punishing devastation sets the tone of suffering and thus coping mechanisms implemented by the survivors of this village. 

Still image from documentary film, One Child.

SYNOPSIS: “One Child,” a film by NYU film student, Zijian Mu, profiles three families from Beichuan, the town that suffered the most in the earthquake.  And the town did not fare better than its inhabitants.  It was torn and abandoned.  The government deployed its construction machinery toward building an entirely new town.  The old Beichuan was dead.  And a new Beichuan has been erected- in a different place.  In just three years, residents of the old town were relocated, including the families of Yang, Jiang, and Fu, and Gu, who all lost their only children to the earthquake.  (Source, David Magdael & Associates PR)

Still image from documentary film, One Child

The minimal scoring creates a solemn undertone of raw emotion and tragedy of the narrative, and works with the primarily visual storytelling to create an elegant and powerful experience. Perhaps the most remarkable element of the story is how many of the distraught family units evolved socially; specifically overprotection of the “reborn” children and extreme separation anxiety and fear.  Mu captures this human emotion with very little to no dialogue.  Simple camera work and cinematography, not to mention beautiful editing.  This is a wonderfully moving film.  Running time is 40 minutes.


View the “One Child” trailer here. 

Published on Jan 15, 2015

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