Killing a Pig Without Mao ★★★½

"Abandon all hope of subtle allegory, ye who enter here."

But that's all right with me; in fact, it's more than all right. It's appreciated, as one who is no scholar of history and barely knows the Red Guard from Adam. Killing a Pig Without Mao is beautifully shot, and while the correlation of the movement as nothing more than fuel to feed the Mao regime is hammered home in nearly every shot, it's an efficient, and hyperbolically appropriate one. Cultural upheaval, especially experienced as a young person, is a terrifying prospect - moreso when that youth is on the losing end of the equation - and an ominous, empty slaughterhouse ties together the horror-movie vibe with the psychological catastrophe of ideological genocide.

Director Zhenqian Huang's short film follows a young woman butcher, learning the ropes of slaughtering. Given the conceit of the film, it's not hard to extrapolate a subtext here - perhaps she was in the Red Guard, and for her own safety, turned informant on others, or even joined the PLA to actively put down her former friends. She notes that she's damn near a prodigy at it, a master craftsman in the art of slaughter. The fact that she is miserable while her narration expounds praise on herself is another damning clue. And just in case you needed a bit more assurance of the allegorical nature, Huang inserts a quote from Animal Farm near the end - for those who are already rolling their eyes, this one'll make them throw their hands up, but the sap that I am was delighted.

I would imagine Killing a Pig Without Mao to be supremely hit or miss, based solely on the potential clumsiness someone might see in the way Huang presents his ideas here. What I'd find hard to believe is that someone would fault the film for its visuals. If anything, and despite the subject matter (although I'm happy to report that already-dead pig carcasses are the goriest this one gets), Killing a Pig Without Mao is graceful and liquid, the camera panning smoothly, the shots never boring. Its declamation might be blunt, but its delivery is persuasive; and at the very least, sent me scrambling to learn a little more about this sordid element of Chinese history.

Thanks to Marcissus for the link to this and 28 other Fresnoy films.