Director: Mijie Li | 86 min | 2019 | China, United States
Once an aspirational girl from the countryside, Chaoyan is now a young wife and mother in a giant city with a steady job. She lives comfortably, but finds her family life empty.
When Chaoyan rediscovers the ancient teachings of Confucianism, she sees a new hope and starts steering her young son away from mainstream education and towards these Chinese classics. She becomes a zealous convert and involves her impressionable four-year-old son in her rigorous routine of chanting daily mantras. She hopes they will restore balance, respect and morality to her home.
However, reviving nearly extinct traditions and integrating them into a modern lifestyle proves to be difficult. Chaoyan's ambitions incur the wrath of her husband and her in-laws.
Debut director Mijie Li captures the change in atmosphere at home that results from Chaoyan’s alternative child-rearing, giving viewers a unique opportunity to observe an individual’s struggle for her own identity, so forcefully suppressed by the social system.
Chaoyan's husband, Mei, finds their study schedule excessive, but tolerates it until she proposes that Chen attend a year-round Confucian school. While Confucianism's primary purpose is to instil peace and harmony, the opposite occurs between this husband and wife as their beliefs clash and their arguments escalate.
A gripping portrait of marital and parental crisis, 'Confucian Dream' demonstrates the effects of misplacing your expectations of a spouse onto a child.
Li’s documentary is also a fascinating one for those who love non-fiction filmmaking where the ethical boundaries are less clear than they maybe should be.
Previous festival selections include:
GZ Docs: winner, Best Feature Length Documentary Award,
winner, Best Global Impact China Documentary Award
Karlovy Vary Film Festival: winner, Special Jury Prize