Walk Softly and Carry a Tune

If your reaction to the Friday night presidential debate was lukewarm, do yourself a favor and check out Please Vote For Me. Running just under an hour, the documentary nevertheless makes the most of its slim running time as it recounts the battle for the democratically elected position of Class Monitor at a primary school in Wuhan China.

Things get ugly quick as Cheng Cheng convinces one of his classmates to heckle Xu Xiaofei’s talent show presentation, leaving her in tears. Cheng Cheng is a fascinating kid to watch, a smooth operator who seems born for politics. He’s constantly pulling one of his classmates aside, putting a comradely arm around their shoulder and then setting to work, cajoling them to change their vote, offering them positions in his new regime or spreading rumors that an opponent is dropping out of the race. When the cameraman asks one of the students who they plan to vote for, Cheng Cheng pulls him aside and tells him to ask again when he’s not around, lest his presence influence their declaration. Although all three of the children are coached heavily by their parents, they seem to have a canny sense of how to play the game. After their teacher Mrs. Zhang berates the kids for joining in on the interruption of Xu Xiaofei’s music recital, Cheng Cheng shows up to apologize. Not for himself of course, but on behalf of the other candidate Luo Lei.

The debates are a highlight, especially because they are carried on in a manner that seems utterly fantastic to those we’re used to. The candidates point out a weakness in their fellow student, and then the latter actually responds directly to that accusation!

Cheng Cheng: You lack confidence. You cried during the talent show. How can you control the class when you’re so delicate?

Xu Xiaofei: I didn’t cry when I was supervising the class. I don’t cry that much anymore, since Third Grade.

In a wonderful piece of rhetoric, Cheng Cheng accuses Xu Xiaofei of eating too slow, the result of which will be an unmonitored class. “I didn’t get that,” she admits with a laugh.

It’s these little bits of jarring familiarity, national elections in miniature, that make this film such a gem (remember when Hilary Clinton took so much heat for shedding a few tears?). As the kids dance around the room as the results are tabulated, one of the losing candidates mutters under his breath that they’ll come to regret their decision soon enough when their sporting event-like reaction subsides. This is a small film whose clever choice of subject matter really resonates.

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