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March 06, 2012

A CCS community member's review of Wheat Harvest (麦收)


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This controversial film was screened as part of the Winter 2012 Chinese Documentary Film Series Saturday, March 3, 2012.

Carrick Rogers (University of Michigan) saw the film Saturday and was very kind to share his thoughts:

When watching Wheat Harvest one sees Hongmiao's life in three different ways, based on how the camera is held. The first is the standard shot one expects to see in a documentary, with the camera clearly tripod-mounted or held on the director’s shoulder. Those present are clearly aware of the camera and often look directly at the lens to address the director. These scenes have the most value, capturing interactions within the brothel or when the prostitute and a client are out on a date. Many of the regulars it appears desire companionship and a ‘girlfriend experience’ as much as the sex and seeing these interactions play out is fascinating. Here is where the documentary shines, showing how Hongmiao interacts with her clients, coworkers, and family.

Those scenes though feel rare in Wheat Harvest. What the viewer remembers though are all the scenes that appear to be covertly shot. Featuring camera angles where the camera is clearly resting on the lap of the director or set off on a shelf. Given Xu Tong's duplicity it doesn’t take much paranoia to imagine that during these scenes the director had ensured those present the camera was off. After all, Xu Tong made all kinds of promises to Hongmiao regarding how he could use the footage and he broke all of them. Other uncomfortable scenes also feature the director sitting on Hongmiao’s bed and pressing her to talk about her sexual exploits. She relates them in confidence and her trust is repaid with the broadcast of those words to the entire world.

The third type of scenes consists of those of Hongmiao planting corn, of migrant workers harvesting wheat, or merely walks around Beijing. At first one sees these scenes as an interesting window inside rural and urban in China. However, due to overuse these scenes begin to feel like filler used to length the run time of the film as opposed to contributing to the audience’s understanding of the subject. Many of these scenes are also thrown in a seemingly randomly order; for example, two scenes in Beijing may be interspersed with a scene of Hongmiao returning to her rural home. It is never clear exactly how many visits home Hongmiao made over the course of film, and the effect is distracting to the viewer as pieces of Hongmiao’s life are presented out of order.

Ultimately, those covert shots or shots in which Xu Tong aggressively questions Hongmiao, reducing her to tears at one point, seem to dominate the movie. They carry with them an unpleasant sense of voyeurism that pervades the film. It is difficult to actually focus on the content when one is busy quelling feelings of disgust over the director’s exploitation of his subject. Wheat Harvest does not feel like a documentary but rather a piece where someone revels in voyeurism and schadenfreude by exploiting his subjects.


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Posted by zzhu at March 6, 2012 02:47 PM

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