Not One Less

Not One Less

*****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The teacher in a village school in China's rural wasteland hasn't been paid for six months. His most precious possession is a box of chalk.

Occasionally a child stops coming because of needs at home and all carry their poverty with humour and grace. The teacher sleeps on a matress in a cramped room at the back with three of his pupils who have nowhere to go. This is his life and the welfare of the children matters desperately to him.

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He has to go away for a month to care for his sick mother and a replacement teacher is hired. She turns out to be a 13-year-old girl, who has only taken the job for the money. All she can do is read and write and so makes the children copy sections of a book from the blackboard, while she sits outside the door to stop anyone leaving. Before going, the old teacher gives her strict instructions that when he returns he expects to find the full rota (28) and not one less. She sees this as her priority and so when one of the boys runs off to the city to look for work, she has to think of ways of getting him back.

The beauty of Zhang Yimou's film is its simplicity. Using untrained actors, he has achieved a unique and wondrous thing. Wei Minzhi demonstrates fierce determination in the lead role and the children's unselfconscious collaborative effort brings tears to the eye.

This is the story of an obstinate girl's refusal to admit defeat and how her class discover that not all school work is impracticable. If it wasn't made with such loving care, you might suspect a political agenda. Even the poorest, Yimou seems to be saying, can achieve greatness with perseverence.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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When a teacher has to go and care for his sick mum, a 13-year-old is hried as his replacement.
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Director: Zhang Yimou

Writer: Shi Xiangsheng

Starring: Wei Minzhi, ZhangHuike, Tian Zhenda, Gao Enman

Year: 1998

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: China

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