Directed by Xu Huijing
Special Jury Award Special Mention, 2013 Sheffield Doc/Fest
Official Selection, 2013 Yunnan Multi Culture Vusual Festival
Official Selection, 2014 MoMA Documentary Fortnight
Imagine the mayor chasing you down at home, at work, and on the streets, throwing on the hard sell to get you sterilized for the good of the team. This is the bizarre and very real situation at the heart of MOTHERS, Xu Huijing’s engrossing and oddly entertaining documentary, and easily one of the best one-child policy films to date.
With pressure from above and resistance from below, officials in a small village in Shanxi Province try to keep up their quota to sterilize 14 women during their annual workshop or lose their jobs. It’s an almost impossible task in an increasingly indignant village without enough childbearing women. The film tags along as village honchos plead, pressure, and re-strategize in what feels as much like door-to-door campaigning as it does surgical extortion. Defying them all is Rong Rong, a teacher and mother of two who tries to dodge sterilization for another year, even under a rainstorm of threats which include fines and withholding school from her children.
Xu, himself an illegal second child, smartly turns the focus away from horror and instead fleshes out the absurd contradictions of implementing population control on the ground. And what contradictions they are – from the jungle gym logic of “voluntary” sterilization and a fertility shrine presided over by one of the sterilization officers. Most refreshingly, these are not your typical documentary victims. The women are snapping, elusive, clever. Elders berate officials for enforcing a bankrupt policy. Men retreat to their sofas, exhausted and almost sheepish. It’s a riveting waiting game to watch, as regular townfolk use ingenuity in a procedural warfare with chillingly personal consequences. –Christina Ree