Not One Less/B+,B+
Columbia/1999/106/ANA 1.85

     Remarkable filmmakers are magnets for insight and inspiration. Zhang Yi-mou has a camera that acts like a divining rod for good ideas. Not One Less is Zhang in contemporary mode. Much like the wonderful The Story of Qui Ju, Zhang brings style and imagination to the modern Chinese provinces and finds a heroine in a small village.

Wei in the city. ©Columbia

    Not One Less begins as one movie and turns magically into another. Thirteen-year-old girl Wei is recruited by a remote village mayor to substitute for the school teacher who must leave on a one month trip. The children, as adorable a bunch as you'd ever want to see on film, present various challenges to Wei's authority and her lack of experience. Somehow, Wei manages to communicate with these kids on a level close to their hearts. But, when something unexpected turns up, she must shift direction. With the help of the children, Wei does what she must.
    Zhang treats kids with the same perspicacity that Truffaut had in 400 Blows and with the same natural innocence that Morris Engel captured in The Little Fugitive.  It's no surprise to find out that the child actors who populate the village are not professionals but children from the surrounding area where Not One Less takes place.. They are just kids entranced by the camera, guided with delicacy through the process of filmmaking by a director who exudes comfort and confidence. Wei Minzhi plays the young substitute with a forthright purposefulness. This young reed of an actress will not be swayed. She even reminds me of how a young Gong Li might have looked. Zhang Huike, the rebellious tike who stimulates most of the action, is very charming.
     Zhang clearly owes a debt to Italian neo-realists. Whether shooting in the village or the small city, Zhang's makes the viewer feel like he is there. There are few cinematic flourishes or frills. The camera serves the tale with elegance. Though the pace may seem slow at times, and perhaps the sentiment borders on maudlin, Zhang elevates the material with a keen sense of timing.
     This is a very easy DVD to enjoy. The photography is presented with natural ease. The contrast is in good balance with the color saturation. Colors are stable and consistent in various lighting schemes. Blacks are rich without masking detail. The image is always sharp, and the yellow English subtitles are easy to read. Dolby Digital 2.0 surround provides good matrixed ambiance.






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