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At first glance, Zhai Yixiang’s “Mosaic Portrait” looks like it pursues the same semi-journalistic agenda as so much social-issue cinema: Xu Ying (Zhang Tongxi), a 14-year-old girl from a rural Chinese village, is discovered to be pregnant, and names one of her schoolteachers as the father. Ying’s father, Xu Guangjun (Wang Yanhui) — a frequently absent migrant worker — along with school authorities and visiting reporter Jia (Wang Chuanjun), who takes an interest in the case, attempt to piece together the truth of the situation. They are all excessively concerned with Ying’s predicament, yet somehow unable to conceive of Ying’s place within it, and so the men tussle over the sullen teen like dogs over a bone, vying with each other without ever really looking at her.
And for a time, it seems that director Zhai will do the same. Ying is initially depicted, in DP Wang Weihua’s steady, handheld style, from far away or partially offscreen or with her unknowable eyes hidden behind the swoop of her bangs. We’re introduced to her wearing a blindfold, as she visits an optician to treat her suddenly failing eyesight (blindness, defocusing and the cataract-milkiness of the enveloping country fog also gives the cinematography an evocative motif). Her hesitant interview with Jia puts Ying literally behind frosted glass.
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Her father has run-ins with the stonewalling headmaster (Chen Di); the reporter pesters the local police; the villagers gossip; and somewhere the decision is made that Ying should carry the pregnancy to term, less because of pro-life sentiment than because it will make the DNA tests more effective. Ying herself is not consulted, which echoes the troubling legacy of China’s erstwhile one-child policy. There, too, it was the bodies and psyches of women and girls that...
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