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In this tension, the film finds its greatest strength. Mira must learn to navigate the world on her own as a sexually-oriented being. But she soon realizes that her mother is a friend, that she too was once a young girl. Together, they share a female experience and an emotional bond that is the best armor for any girl. 

The debut feature of writer/director Jianjie Li, “Brief History of a Families,” also focuses on the way the shadow of a nation’s social history affects its students today, and the fragile relationships of a family that can be slowly tampered with by an outsider. Wei, played by Muran Lin, is the only child of a middle-class Chinese family. The film is set in a post-one-child China. Wei, who is not the best student in school, is more concerned with playing video games than academic success. 

Wei (Xilun Sun), a quiet and loner whose father is abusive or not, befriends Shuo after an incident in school. As Wei’s parents (Feng Zu and Keyu Guo) become more invested in the well-being of Shuo, Wei rebels and the cracks in the family’s shiny veneer begin to show. Worried about his son’s future, Wei’s father enrolls him in an English class so he can go to university abroad. Wei reminds his father that “the future is in China.” “Not for me,” his father responds. 

The film’s smooth visuals are reminiscent of the first sequence in Steven Spielberg’s A.I.Artificial Intelligence” is a film that uses lighting and shot compositions to create a very specific effect. It’s as if Lin were presenting the story of that film from the perspective of the couple’s biological son, whose roughness is laid bare by the robot designed to be the perfect son. In both cases, it is the first son, and for the majority of their lives, the only son, who carries the burden of the family’s fate. Lin’s film asks what happens to an individual in a social system that does not allow for that kind of individuality to thrive?  

Lin and cinematographer Jiahao Zhao capture hypnotic repetitions of visual images throughout the film. The windows of the buildings, cars driving by, students walking into class, columns holding up buildings. Everything is exact, precise and regulated. Wei, in his English classroom, repeats words mindlessly with his classmates. Wei stares at the camera in this sea of rigid repetition. Will he ever be lost in the conformity?

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