Mulberry Child


China’s 1960s–1970s Cultural Revolution reverberates through generations in Mulberry Child, a documentary based in part on Jian Ping’s autobiographical book of the same name, whose poignancy is lessened by its awkward formal devices. Jian’s childhood was one of hardships, with her government-official father unjustly accused of being a traitor and her mother vilified and persecuted for her marital loyalty. Written and directed by Susan Morgan Cooper, the film is most evocative in its portrait of the unwarranted suffering wrought by Mao Tse-tung’s Communist rule. A reliance on heavy-handed dramatic re-creations, however, diminishes her story’s immediacy, especially in light of the fact that her nonfiction interviews with Jian and her family—including an all-too-brief snippet with Jian’s sister Yan discussing how she was forced to publicly denounce her father—are often gut-wrenching. Structural messiness is a persistent problem, be it multiple narrators or flip-flopping between Jian’s past adversity and present tensions with her jet-setting American-born daughter Lisa, which are rooted in the emotional reticence that Jian learned from her stoic mother and passed down to her own child. It’s an intriguing thread that’s unfortunately given only cursory treatment, not to mention handled via mother-daughter conversations clearly, and clumsily, staged for the camera. Nick Schager

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