Not One Less
Drama | In Spanish with English subtitles | 135 minutes
In rural China, the village’s only school teacher must take a month’s leave to care for his ill mother. Nobody in the village is available to serve as substitute teacher so he recruits 13 year old Wei to cover for him. The teacher is not concerned that Wei does not have a high school education and no special talents. He instructs Wei to write the lessons on the board and have the students copy them in their notebooks. Wei is told she will receive 50 yuan a day. As a bonus she will receive another 10 yuan if all the students are still there when he returns. This is crucial as Chinese schools are experiencing a high dropout rate as students quit to look for work in the city. Wei struggles to keep order in a classroom filled with unruly students who taunt her that she is not much older than they are. Wei is determined not to lose one student by the time the teacher returns. She stands guard at the front door when the students are writing down their lessons; she hides an athletic student when a government recruiter arrives to transfer her to a special sports school; and when a troublesome student runs off to look for a job in the city, Wei pursues him. While frantically searching for the boy, Wei becomes aware of the economic gap between urban and rural populations and the prevalence of stifling bureaucracy in the city. But Wei is determined. When the teacher returns all the students will be there—not one less.
Why Stream This Film?
- Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 95%
- Metacritic Score: 73
Venice Film Festival: Winner, Golden Lion
Shanghai Film Critics Awards: Winner, Film of Merit; Best Director (Zhang Yimou)
Young Artist Awards: Winner, Best International Film
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NOT ONE LESS is not only about the poor in China’s remote rural areas, but could be dedicated to them; Zhang Yimou is returning here to memories of the years from 1968 to 1978, when he worked as a rural laborer under the Cultural Revolution. This isn’t a pumped-up melodrama or an inspirational tearjerker, but a matter-of-fact look at a poor rural area where necessity is the mother of invention.
Zhang Yimou’s NOT ONE LESS enlarges the possibilities of filmmaking even as it grounds itself in one of cinema’s oldest, most basic principles: the camera’s ability to document reality. Despite its deliberate austerity, NOT ONE LESS is extraordinarily rich. And despite the look and pace of raw documentary film, the movie is a splendid, assured piece of storytelling.
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