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Review: Petition

A modern tragedy based on unchanging conflict
By CHRIS FUJIWARA  |  January 26, 2010
3.0 3.0 Stars

 

Petition
Mandarin | 120 Minutes | HFA: February 1

This distressing documentary explores a netherworld of individuals who have come to Beijing from all over China hoping that their grievances against their local governments will be heard. Facing indifference from the authorities and violence from thugs hired to intimidate them, the petitioners hang on, some living for years in makeshift huts and going every day to the petition office.

The film is a modern tragedy based on an unchanging conflict: the state never acknowledges the petitioners, and the latter never abandon their quest for justice. Because the contacts between these two sides are so fleeting and inconclusive, the interest of Petition shifts, for much of its two-hour running time, to the relationship between filmmaker Zhao Liang and his subjects as they invite him into their lives or (at one point) demand that he stop shooting.

These moments of communication sought or denied give poignancy to a film filled with helplessness and outrage.

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