Thatched Memories | Chicago Reader

Thatched Memories

Set in a Chinese village shortly before the firestorm of the Cultural Revolution, this memory film by Geng Xu focuses on a grade school largely untainted by Maoist zeal and more concerned with solid education and extracurricular competitions. Its narrator, the puckish Sang sang, lives in the school compound with his doting mother and his stern father, the principal. Through the boy's eyes we meet a gallery of characters, including a class outcast taunted for his bald head, a pair of ill-fated lovers, a poor orphan rumored to be the principal's illegitimate daughter, and Sang sang's best friend, who's forced to drop out of school after his family's business fails. Geng guides the actors with a guile worthy of Trauffaut, coaxing realistic, endearing performances from nonprofessionals, and with nostalgia and earthy humor he examines the strengths and weaknesses of the village's collectivist way of life. Though the film stresses friendship, honor, and family, its conclusion is both touching and ominous, as Sang Sang climbs atop the roof of his house, surveys the classrooms, and then gazes into the distance while his adult voice-over sighs, “There's more to come.” 96 min.

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