SACRIFICE half your life to me," orders Wang Junchun, head teacher of Class 7, to his packed classroom at the beginning of the school year.
That kind of severity runs deep throughout "Senior Year" (2006). Students are either studying, sleeping or castigating themselves for not being more like them.
That tone is reflected by director Zhou Hao, who eschews explanation by avoiding typical narration, emphasizing the anonymous nature of the schooling where students are packed into classrooms and first commanded, then reasoned with, then implored to focus their energy on this exam that will determine their worth.
"Why are you so weak?" an adult asks a boy who is having trouble focusing on his studies. It's a pretty harrowing scene.
Still, it's important to remember the context.
What appears to be a typical parent, a mother, of one of those students is interviewed to give perspective on what life will be like if the student doesn't pass the exam and stays in a small hometown. The woman wakes every day at 5am, works until 8pm, and earns around 12 yuan (US$1.89) a day.
Those facts speak for themselves, and the film lets them speak, without commentary.
Unfortunately, this hands-off approach does have its drawbacks. Namely, the movie has its dry spots. While not focusing on individuals serves purpose of getting across a universal message, it makes the story less affecting. Instead, there are endless shots of students marching to and from the classroom, fighting off sleep and expressing boundless expectations.
The film's most compelling moments are those in which individuals are spotlighted.
There's a girl who suddenly receives attention from her mother when she is found to excel in school, and a pair of boys who sneak out at night to surf the Internet, much to the dismay of their parents and school staff.
It's clear the stories are there. But whether due to lack of access, or desire to keep the focus on the entire class, they don't get their proper attention.
Still, under the surface, they're there, and are a worthy find.
English subtitle is available.
Movie: 'Senior Year' (??èy) (2006)
Where to see it:
The Apartment (47 Yongfu Rd, near Fuxing Rd W.)
When to see it:
September 16, 4:45pm
What's to see: A decidedly non-judgmental view of senior year students in Wuping, Fujian Province, as they undertake grueling preparation for the National College Entrance Exam that will determine the next chapter of their lives.
Brian's rating: 6/10 stars
Not in a theater
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