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The Beekeeper and His Son

[…] With «The Beekeeper and His Son» we should add a quite unknown chapter to the history of this modernization: an ecologically committed movement of going back to the countryside, trying to fight for sustainable and biological agriculture, a socially and economically challenging project.

[…] Independently of these socio-economic reflections, Diedie Weng’s documentary is striking for the sincerity of its approach, the very sensitive attention to detail, and the ability to report on conflicts as well as the love that animates the family.

We are used to seeing documentary films on China that focus on the wild urbanization of megacities or on the difficult conditions in rural China. They often follow a precise path: the one that many Chinese people are following from the poorness of the villages to the contradictions of “modern life”. Diedie Weng does the opposite, focusing his attention on the movement of going back to the village, following her own path as an immigrant in the USA who finally returns to the northern China, to the region of Shangxi – a region with an important history and with strong cultural traditions from the Imperial China, a region that had for a long time never been considered a province, but which is now a province indeed whose economy is largely dependent on coal mining, a heavily polluting business.

The young Maofu returns to his parents’ house in the countryside after a period spent as migrant worker. His days are spent helping the parents with the farming and beekeeping, but also studying sales and marketing. Maofu’s young life seems to have already run aground and his mood is quite depressive. If Diedie Weng’s initial intentions were to film the activity of Maofu’s father, Lao Yu, who had become quite a famous beekeeper in the region, she turned quickly to the conflicting relationship between father and son. Through this, many questions about urbanization and rurality in China are indirectly raised and through this intimate familiar portrait we seem to learn a lot of Chinese dramatic modernization.

Actually, with The Beekeeper and His Son we should add a quite unknown chapter to the history of this modernization: an ecologically committed movement of going back to the countryside, trying to fight for sustainable and biological agriculture, a socially and economically challenging project. In this way, the seemingly archaic arguments of the father start to appear in a new avant-gardist light, whereas Maofu’s obsession with his handbook of marketing seems to be outdated.

Independently of these socio-economic reflections, Diedie Weng’s documentary is striking for the sincerity of its approach, the very sensitive attention to detail, and the ability to report on conflicts as well as the love that animates the family. With that, we should be able to embrace in the family not only the three people, but equally all the animals: the bees, pigs, dogs, chicken and moreover the geese. If the behaviour of any of the animals interacts with the three people in a highly expressive way, the geese – and one goose in particular – seem to interpret every moment of the fight between the father and the son with a precise sense of justice and love. Not without humour, the goose judges both of them and protects the relationship, cinematographically working as a powerful voice-over. Diedie Weng’s respectful empathy for the organic life at the farm is responsible for a film that, in showing important social and economic issues in China, has a universal force.

In The Beekeeper and His Son the relevant questions and the dramaturgical line slowly emerge from the details and we are given the impression that the images are not there to illustrate an idea or a meaning, but that ideas and meanings come directly from the force of the images themselves. For this, we cannot help but stress the important editing work of the film, which resulted from Diedie Weng’s collaboration with Vadim Jendreyko. The Swiss filmmaker accompanied the production process of the film also as a mentor, producer and co-screenwriter, allowing her powerful and passionate signature to stand out.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: July 21, 2017

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