Title: Please Vote For Me (2007)
Director: Weijun Chen
I was all set to plug a Bollywood movie until I turned on a short (58 minute) documentary while I fixed supper. Please Vote for Me follows a class of elementary school children in China as they experiment with a democratic election for the coveted position of Class Monitor.
It was a completely appropriate choice given that it’s election season around here right now. The difference is, I found this election far more compelling.
This is a not an overly-slick, Hollywood-ized documentary. A lot of it is 8 year old kids being 8 year old kids. Yelling, pouting, fighting, arguing…it’s as real as it gets (and one of these boys is totally going to regret this when he’s a teenager and it gets shown around school with him all up in his undies all the time). It’s only when you stop to realize that this is China that it gets truly amazing.
Watching the three kids at the center of the election jump into the typical games of politics (back-room negotiations, pushy behavior, gifts to gain favor, empty promises, mud-slinging and general sabotage) you start to wonder if what you’re seeing is the rise of a new way of thinking in China, or if competitive election behavior is just rooted in human DNA. And it’s not just the kids, the push-to-achieve Chinese parenting style is apparently way more powerful than any loyalty to communist equality as all the parents push their little darlings to practice for each round of the election cycle–some pulling out more stops than others.
It was interesting to watch the way these kids approached the process, and though less heavily featured, it was even more amazing to see the teacher walk them through it. About the last thing I ever expected was to see a Chinese teacher explaining democracy, and emphasizing the importance of each kid’s vote as their way to control their own destiny. It would be a throw-away speech for a teacher here, but in a country where the internet is fire-walled by your government and there’s only one party, it becomes a heavy-hitter.
There’s a plain old slice-of-life attraction to it as well. You follow these kids home and get a little peek at the life of the new “middle class” Chinese family. And the classroom shots were an eye-opener. I was surprised that you didn’t see the kids doing all that much school work. And the way they were wandering around at lunch, in and out of the halls, doing as they pleased? That’s not what I expected, especially since the public school classroom where I volunteered in Dallas was a WAY more uniformed, regimented, all-in-a-line kind of place where there was no way a kid set so much as a toe in the hall without being in classroom line, or escorted by a teacher.
Sadly, these kiddos didn’t get much better choices for their leader than you find in most Western elections, so there’s a depressing universality going on here.
It’s an interesting look at both election behavior and at what China is becoming. The film is not life-changer, but it does inspire a moderate amount of thought.
I give it 3 and a half jars of peanut-butter.