Children Are Not Afraid
China 2017, 85min.
The suicide itself, never fully clarified, was widely covered in the international press (for instance by the Guardian, CBS, and Al Jazeera) as well as by the China Daily, the country’s national English-language newspaper. This is the starting point for Rong’s film. The International Film Festival Rotterdam, where Children are not afraid… premiered on January 28th, advertised it straightforward as a documentary film, but it is not. The opening credits include the disclaimer that the story is purely fictional but any resemblance to actual individuals or events is real. Do not expect any truth in the form of reporting, in addition to a confrontation with the filmmaker’s own past, memories and experiences. Both as a child and father.
Rong explores both the physical environment in which the drama took place, as well as the socio-economic environment. The films starts with a long take of the distant village that hosted the drama at night, a scene that recurs several times. Dogs bark and we hear Rong’s breath, making the atmosphere of the deserted village tangible. Rong also explores the green countryside by day, its cornfields, hills and small roads. He has an eye for details, like a large toad hopping through one of the village houses (while his own kids play with little, delicate frogs). The socio-economic exploration focuses on the poverty of the village population, absent parents searching for a better income elsewhere, and their abandoned children left to venture for themselves, unprepared for the real world out there. When he initially wants to visit the village, Rong and his accompanying friend Chen Hua are met with hostility, despite the fact that the story has been covered in the press and is hardly a secret. He applies a strategy to enter at the hottest time of day, when everybody is dozing off, and to first hang out a bit, getting in touch with some local children, and slowly finding his way further in later on. This strategy is only mildly successful, as the villagers do not like intruders, and fear prevents Rong from eventually asking the most important questions.