It was back in 1988, when Japanese director Isao Takahata broke new ground in animation with Grave of the Fireflies, a deeply grim story of children in a devastated post-WWII Kobe. It’s a film that used the medium of animation not just to depict the deprivation and suffering of its young characters, but also to show their memories and the better world they imagine. Director Dennis Do’s Funan tells the story of a Cambodian family separated during the Khmer Rouge-ordered migrations of the mid-1970s. Here, a child, separated from his parents and moving from labor camp to labor camp, doesn’t find solace in memories or imagination. Most of this movie focuses on his parents and their determination to escape their own enslavement and find their son.
Do’s tale is one that is purposely grounded. He uses animation as an interrogation into the practice of fictional depictions that derive from actual atrocities. He almost always cuts away when the Khmer Rouge shooting or hangings of subjects who have displeased them. But Do also is unflinching when displaying the corruption and personal betrayals that grow and spread when your neighbor becomes your armed captor. The director is of Cambodian extraction but was born and raised in France, so in that he’s chosen to tell this story in the language of his home and dispensing French actors in all the roles. But for a film that aims to reach older children and young adults, its moral is unusually refreshing: there sometimes is hope at the end of a horrible road, but only if you can live to reach that end. Told in minimalist strokes of vibrant beauty, Funan is piece of animation where beauty and horror are hand in hand.
One Child Nation
From 1979 to 2015, China imposed its one-child policy, which legally prohibited families from having more than a single child. It was a drastic attempt to curb the nation’s urgent population crisis, and it would go on to shape an entire generation. It was devastating to the nation’s very idea of family, leading to massive numbers of abortions, baby trafficking, and a profound toll on families. The harrowing yet comprehensive documentary One Child Nation, which won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2019, seeks to comprehend a government order that was so impactful, yet normalized, by parents and officials alike.
Co-directors Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang take a very personal approach in showing the irrevocable damage the one-child policy made, framing it around Wang’s recent entry into motherhood while she revisits the small Chinese village where she grew up. Wang uses sit-down interviews with her family members to paint a complicated image of a society that created such a common trauma among families. It’s fascinating to see the movie grapple with the past as a shared experience: some people look upon it with great regret; others dismiss it with a sense of policy, one of its more stirring aspects about a lack of control. Propaganda imagery about the policy rings throughout the film, whether it’s a song and dance delivered by smiling faces about the value of having only one child, or giant graffiti passages enforcing the rule, cryptically or outright spray painted on village walls.
While the movie may struggle a little bit with its scope, Wang and Zhang incorporate other perspectives to show the entire scope of it all, like an artist who took pictures of trash heaps where he found dead fetuses, a woman who performed thousands of forced abortions and is now seeking a type of forgiveness by helping babies be born, and a twin whose sister was taken to America. Balancing its investigate interests with its emotional outrage, the expansive story offers a nonetheless concise picture of this “population war.” In a larger sense, it provides a stirring look at a nation that seeks to control the bodies of its women, while seeing them as second-class to men. Wang does not make any immediate comparisons to America, but the parallels are as obvious as they are significant. An often staggering meld of cultural reporting and interpersonal reckoning, One Child Nation encapsulates decades of sadly underreported events into a starling account of collective trauma.
David Crosby: Remember My Name
It seems pretty clear that David Crosby should’ve died sometime in the 1980s. From his emergence in the mid-’60s as a guitarist and vocalist for The Byrds to his stadium-filling days as part of the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the singer-songwriter never denied himself of the excesses of his era; from wanton sex to extremist political views to drug addiction. If Crosby had died by, say, an overdose, it’s hard to say what his legacy would be. The critical reputation of Crosby, Stills & Nash dropped off after the band’s second album (more or less once Neil Young left). And in the punk and New Wave eras, cranky old hippies like Crosby were regarded as a joke. On top of that as the man himself points out in the documentary David Crosby: Remember My Name, he was the only guy in CSNY who never wrote a hit. And yet the film captures Crosby on a new stride in the late 2010s; he’s off hard drugs, happily married, touring, and releasing some acclaimed solo albums. But it’s at the same time that he’s also feuding with most of his closest colleagues and as he approaches his 80s he finds he still has to work year-round to buy groceries and pay his mortgage.
Director A.J. Eaton builds the film around multiple interviews conducted by former Rolling Stone reporter and filmmaker himself Cameron Crowe (who’s also a producer): some shot in Crosby’s home, and some shot in the Los Angeles area, where Crosby drives around and talks about the respective rock ‘n’ roll heydays of Sunset Strip and Laurel Canyon. From those two scenes came some of the most vital music of the 20th century and Crosby was intimately acquainted with all the major players, in varying degrees. And one of his greatest weaknesses as a friend is one of his greatest strengths as a public figure and a documentary subject: he’s brutally honest, not just about his own mistakes but others’.
Through it all Remember My Name is a bit too thin when it comes to the analysis and appreciation of Crosby’s actual music and does feel at a distance at times, it still works quite well as a tragicomic character study, lead by a man who started burning bridges back when he was with The Byrds, when he’d hijack the band’s concerts to rant for minutes about who really killed JFK. (“David became insufferable,” bandmate Roger McGuinn sighs at one point in one of the few bandmate new interviews.) Friends who stood by him during his worst moments won’t talk to him now, because even after he straightened up he still tested people’s patience. “I’m afraid of dying,” Crosby also admits, early in the film. “And I’m close.” Twenty or thirty years ago, the inevitability of that death might’ve taken some of the sting out of it, even for those diehard CSN fans. But as Remember My Name makes clear, Crosby today is closer to having a happy ending to his life story than he’s ever been — if he can only stick around long enough to heal all the old wounds. Raw, entirely human, and rather unflinching, David Crosby: Remember My Name is a portrait of an artist’s reflection; a hard look in the mirror of a self-destructive journey.