Tribeca 2018 Review: “The Girl and the Picture” (2018) ★★★★★


What did the past taught us? What were those lessons we think we learnt so we could become better human beings? What is the impact of a memory that holds both sweet and unpleasant part of our life? What we should never forget is who we were so that our next generation can be more prepared to fight against what we have done. That means acknowledging the fact and knowing how terrible and inhumane what we did was, so that the future will find its way to not return back to our animalistic core.

But whatever it is, I am sure, someone somewhere, in a different life or timeline, is perhaps writing the same thing I am writing right now with one expectation to give the chance to others to concentrate on something more positive. But if that had happened, it means we have failed miserably and will continue failing, because what we say or the way we convey our message will never be enough to prevent such cruel murdering or massacre, the same as the one which happened in Nanjing in 1937 by the Japanese invaders.

Written and directed by Vanessa Roth, this extremely sad but beautifully short documentary film offers an astonishing look back to history, to the day when an 8 year old girl’s path crossed with an American pastor and missioner John Magee who will be captured in his videos and pictures and become the most notable and important witness of history when over, according to historians, 300,000 Chinese were killed in so many different ways it seemed the Japanese soldiers were there to satisfy their hunger for blood and killings which they seemed to be truly enjoying.

It begins with the 88 year old Xia Shuqin whose vivid memory recreates within a short amount of time the horror brought on the morning of December 1937, when her family was killed by Japanese soldiers in a short time. As a variety of options were available for Japanese soldiers, they used their dark and demonic creativity to take one life after another in their own way. During that horrific night, Xia Shuqin with tears in her eyes shares how she was stabbed three times, her one year old sister was brutally killed, and only herself and another sister survived the massacre.

Xia Shuqin’s granddaughter, Xia Yuan, who has a seven year old son, shares her own way of dealing with such devastating past and how she plans to pass that information on to her little son through the letter she writes, so that he and his children as well can understand that part of the story. By writing that letter, Xia Yuan cements history, the past and the moment that defines her as someone who creates a special place in her memory so she always can go back to live through the story her grandmother shared.

As the story unfolds, most of you I am quite certain have heard of the historic figure, you see a man named John Magee who was not afraid to dispute with Japanese soldiers in order to save lives. He, perhaps, was the Chinese Schindler who used his method to save as many lives as he could. But what his camera does back then is mind-blowing as he video records what usually many countries in case of a massacre freely denies when there is no proof. But Magee has that proof, the proof that decades later has turned into treasure and the only gathered evidence of what no one can ever deny.

Vanessa Roth’s “The Girl and the Picture” offers a massive history lesson, great archival footages, extremely heartaching interviews, and such details which, you can trust me on that, will take you time to process. It is also an important documentary that continues bringing up what time tends to forget. It tackles the subject of mass killing, inhumane acts against humanity, and how it should be presented to the world. It’s not just the fact of admittance, but rather having it exhibited through the lens of cinema is something that can explain what words cannot.

In the end, by thinking of Xia Shuqin, or her granddaughter, or how dearly they treat the memory, it gives that light we all might be looking forward to. It emphasizes the importance of not taking the past for granted, not to waste the memory, and never forget what was important to life itself. It’s about determination and strong willingness. It’s about the beauty of getting aged through the past that was attempted to be taken away. But it is also about life being so precious, that, no matter how many wars we might have in the future, there is a spirit and hope that will always follow us to have it ensure that it will never be forgotten no matter what. And that, as long as we have an ability to tell the story, to speak up, discuss and challenge the past, the memory is what we all must rely on, because what the eyes can forget, the memory will always be there to remind.

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