Investigating My Father
80 min. / China / Documentary / 2016 – Chinese with English Subtitles
Performance art as cinema, in an ‘experimental documentary’, appears alien and perhaps not considered cinema at all by some. While this is not an easy film for fidgety people, if you surrender to its meticulous, patient gaze, its minimalist richness delivers a profoundly moving experience, not least because of its contemporary resonance, delving as it does, personally and mercilessly, into Mao’s cultural revolution at a time when the world’s many tyrants are again engaged in name-calling and vilification to incite, divide and conquer, setting the people against each other.
‘Investigating My Father’ reveals how a human-being is reduced to paper, the efforts expended, by a society whipped to hysteria, to define and classify people by degree of political correctness, to be (mis)treated accordingly. The story reaches its dark heart in a darkened art gallery as filmmaker and artist Wu Wenguang recalls a ‘session of criticism’ directed at his father at the farm labour camp that he’d been sent to for 11 years to ‘reform through labour’ this ‘Landlord’s Son’ into a member of the New Society.
Then a young boy on a visit at the farm, he’d watched as the others turned on his father. “You’re not feeding the pigs right; you lead cows back too early; you don’t help, they kept saying. They didn’t do half his work yet they criticized him. Dad only agreed with what they said. I remember thinking: these people are normally nice to me, why are they doing this? Why is Dad so gutless? Why is he not defending himself? I was so dejected over how ‘friends’ could turn on you like that and how could Dad be so weak?”
This was a mere precursor to the gut-punch. At the same labour camp, a hard rain had scattered the cows and Dad had to round them up, missing the communal meal. “Did you save me some food? Dad asked me. You didn’t save me dinner! You don’t care about me! You spend time with the other adults! Dad yelled as he furiously whipped the cows in the driving rain. Go home! I don’t want to see you again, motherfucker!” We don’t actually see the exhausted, hungry, embittered old man, the cow being whipped, the horrified boy or the rain, but we feel all their pain: each and every separate soulful individual caught in this web of national hysterical deceit: the old man, the whipped cow, the boy and yes, even the cold rain. That’s cinematic enough for me. (Alice Skinhead)
Director-Editor : Wu Wenguang
Cast: Wen-guang Wu