There was such a shared sense of helplessness, it reminded me when every major life decision is made for you for all your life, it's hard to feel responsible for the consequences.
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An interesting and personal look into an issue many of us probably haven't given much thought
I began to love the documentary as an art-form much more when I realised that they're less about presenting basic facts, and more about presenting ideas, personal (and often subjective) stories, and visually depicted arguments/opinions. Therefore, I'd never mark a documentary down for being biased, unless perhaps that bias presented a clearly dangerous or insensitive message to its audience.
I say all this because One Child Nation is not aiming to be an "objective" or strictly factual documentary (very few documentaries do, in my opinion, and I believe that's a common misconception which I should nevertheless shut up about now). In just under 90 minutes, director and host/narrator Nanfu Wang provides a succinct and effective history of China's one child policy, before spending most of the documentary interviewing those who lived under and were affected by it. As a result, the documentary does not have a particularly strong through-line, in my opinion, nor a great sense of pacing, as the feeling of going from one subject to another (occasionally linking them effectively) does result in an episodic feel.
There is also a noticeable way in which some of these segments are more interesting than others- One Child Nation is at its most interesting and heartbreaking when Wang focuses in on her family, asking them why they went along with the one child policy and pulling surprisingly few punches. There is also the horrific stories given by an artist who tried to bring attention to the mistreatment of discarded babies through his disturbing photography and artwork. A whole film could have been given to either of these 'segments,' though in the former's case, I could understand how taxing that would be as a filmmaker to interrogate your own family that much, and with the latter, I could see that being too gruesome an angle to spend an entire feature length documentary on.
The lack of flow, solid but not quite incredible conclusion, and occasional repetition are the only slights I have here, and I know I've spent an unfair amount of this review on them. For the most part, this is a very engaging and oftentimes very sad, even hopeless documentary about an entire nation of people being oppressed and manipulated, even to the point where most of the older generations are shown to still believe the one child policy was a good thing. As the documentary goes out of its way to depict, this was not the case, as the sheer number of stories and statistics regarding children being discarded (particularly if a couple had a girl as their only child, as they were seen as less desirable within the culture, being unable to properly 'pass' the family name on) is enough to convince anyone with half a functioning heart that no, this policy was not a decent or ethical one. There are reasons some thought it sensible, but the human cost can't be ignored here, and this documentary succeeded in making me reflect on that, and wonder why I hadn't really thought about the implications of this now retired policy before, despite knowing full well that it had existed.
Good documentaries often provoke and force you to open your eyes and properly think about issues you may not have known existed, or otherwise did not give the time and thought they might have deserved. One Child Nation, despite an imperfect execution, succeeds on this front, and as such I can easily recommend it to documentary fans who are okay with some upsetting subject material. It was shocking and thought-provoking, without feeling manipulative or exploitative, and was well worth the 90 minute running time.
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