Judge Jason Panella's OCD prevents him from buying anything less than a dozen flowers at a time.
"Me, 11"—literal translation of the film's title
Chinese filmmaker Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle) rooted 11 Flowers in his own childhood experiences. Wang Han (Liu Wenqing) is an 11-year-old growing up in China at the twilight of the Cultural Revolution. His parents (Wang Jinchun and Yan Ni, The Assassins) work long hours in their dreary rural community, and Han seems content spending his time after school playing kick-the-can or exploring with his goofy pals. Han and his father often take long bicycle rides through the countryside, where the boy's father teaches him to paint. Painting, as his father explains, is a vocation that will keep Han autonomous…not a bad thing when you're living in a society struggling under the worst aspects of Maoism.
Han begs his mother for a new shirt for school, which, in a series of carefully handled and quite believable events, eventually leads to the boy getting caught up in a murder and the pursuit of a fugitive. These events push the film forward, but Wang Xiaoshuai keeps 11 Flowers from ever being about them. This is a coming-of-age story, pure and simple, and the cultural upheaval that boils just offscreen is only a backdrop to Wang's real focus: the story of a child taking his first few steps into adulthood. Han is as guileless and naive as any other young boy, though he doesn't remain that way for long. This particular story just happens to take place in China in the 1970—man's parents talk of violent skirmishes between the Red Guard and conservatives, and menacing images of Chairman Mao loom over the town square. This is the world Han knows, for better or worse, and despite its many (many) flaws it's still the world Han had a joyful childhood in. 11 Flowers never tries to sensationalize Han's little slice of life, and the cast is so natural that it's easy to care about the story. Especially since, hey, we were all children once. This everyman aspect of the film can be seen as a flaw, but Wang gets the tone just right to make it work wonderfully.
First Run Features does a nice job with the basics: the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks lovely, and the Dolby 2.0 Stereo rack picks up all of the soft details ably. But as far as extras go, there's nothing to see here. Unless you count the ultra-slim eco-friendly packaging.
11 Flowers is one of those films that succeeds because of absence. It's wonderfully crafted, but the film drifts along at its own pace without delivering some grand statement or serving as a high-def test reel—which, really, this simplicity is the kind of thing that makes it so good.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
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