Please Vote for Me

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

Steps International

PALM SPRINGS -- Two males and a female vie for office, indulging in low blows and spin, character assassination and gestures of goodwill, all the while gauging their standing with voters. The setting is not the Democratic presidential campaign trail but a third-grade class at Evergreen Primary School in Wuhan, China.

"Please Vote for Me," which is on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' documentary feature shortlist and recently screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, packs its fleet hour with keen observations.

Chronicling a public school's first open elections -- at stake is the position of class monitor -- filmmaker Weijun Chen has crafted a witty, engaging macro-lens view of human nature, China's one-child policy and the democratic electoral process as the ultimate exercise in marketing.

The three candidates are chosen by their teachers, who might want to think about becoming casting directors. The ham in the bunch is Cheng Cheng, pudgy, charismatic and a born wheeler-dealer. Low-key Luo Lei, the incumbent, is known for his tough stance as a disciplinarian, no doubt learned from his police officer parents. Shy and sensitive, Xuxiao Fei enters the fray reluctantly, but she soon gets into the spirit of things, that being dirty tricks. With two campaign assistants each at their disposal, the candidates collect negative info on their opponents while their teacher strikes a somewhat laissez-faire approach to the proceedings.

Keeping the political machines running are the parents. Cheng Cheng stands in his underpants as his TV producer mother coaches him in the art of sound bites; Luo Lei's folks convince him of the importance of buying votes; and Xuxiao Fei's mother advises her to go for the jugular in the debates. Not only is the film a transparent look at electoral politics at their most basic, but it also provides a fascinating glimpse of a nation of only children. Without sibling dramas to play out, these 8-year-olds have in many ways adopted a practical, adult view of life.

Still, they're just kids. When smear tactics get the better of one contender, much of the class dissolves in sympathetic tears. Perhaps they've seen too deeply into adulthood. At the film's end, two defeated students stand before the class, sobbing, and you can only shudder as their teacher tells them, "I hope this experience will be useful in the future."
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