Double feature: Although they differ in their exact ratio of gentle humor to ineluctable bleakness, “Not One Less” and “The Tree of Wooden Clogs” offer two related portraits of rural poverty in foreign lands.
The material possessions of the agricultural communities in both films are so few – and the landscapes around them so open and hushed – that each object owned, acquired, or created is imbued with a quotidian holiness, and afforded a level of respect that may come as a humbling rebuke to viewers.
The quiet and space natural to their rural settings sinks into these films so deeply that when both narratives take a third-act turn into urban life, even city-dwelling viewers will find the transition disorienting, alienating.
In both films, the confusion resulting from near-Dickensian conditions and the illogic of woe building upon woe co-occurs with the simplicity of desperation, which clearly points to a single path of action. The films’ characters, at a loss for other options, cling to these action plans fiercely, regardless of developments that might make a less encumbered mind change direction.
For a marathon: Though separated by a decade, “Last Train Home” and “Not One Less” fit together into a coherent narrative about urban and rural life in China.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “kattekrab” and “bobfranklin” at Flickr)