Directed by: Ben Arend Reisman, Anne-Sophie Markus Starring: Jeanmarie Bevort, Frank Hitman, Tim Scalongne Indie Film Review by: Jack Bottomley
P.T. Barnum once said that “The noblest art is that of making others happy”, in fact this very line was used at the end of the recent – more smoothed out – telling of Barnum’s story in The Greatest Showman. This very view comes immediately to mind at the end of this brief but fascinating insight into one duos journey across the remote Yunnan region communities of China. Their mission? To dream, to inspire, to entertain and to teach, and Ben Arend Reisman and co-director Anne-Sophie Markus’ remarkable and uplifting little documentary captures their inspiring journey.
The film focuses on Jeanmarie Bevort, a Dutch street performer who desires to bring his fairy tale about a dwarf, a dragon and a golden egg to the most isolated mountainous villages across China. In his pursuit to entertain schools of children and families of all ages, Jeanmarie is accompanied by youth worker Frank Hitman, as the two go on an expedition of culture and delight, as well as one of discovery.
This film is such a splendid little watch, which flies by as fast as a gliding dragon. Watching a documentary about people aiming to spread knowledge and laughter makes for a warm tonic to the soul in these troubled times and The Dwarf in China is a testament to perseverance, imagination and the engrossing power of storytelling. Not only does this film document this tour of fairy tales and performance art but also it generously highlights some intriguing themes throughout.
Mainly how Western culture is infiltrating even the most distant of places, as these small settlements feature Nike brand shoes or Disney adorned backpacks. This is a documentary as much about modern society and how cross-cultural it has become/is becoming (even in the far reaches of the globe), as it is about a man and his accomplice’s journey to regale their audiences with tales of wonder that highlight important homegrown myths and legends. This film reflects how the world is moving but how tradition can be blended with the contemporary and still result in laughter and education.
The Dwarf in China also contemplates an artist’s burden, namely how performers/actors/artists like Jeanmarie have in some way sacrificed their own family in the pursuit of their ambitions. Jeanmarie’s son Tim joins he and Frank on their quest and in the process the film briefly touches on a father’s happiness with his work but slight guilt in the costs that have come with it. That said it is rather refreshing to see an outcome that, in spite of some hardships (the handcrafted organ breaking en route, the limitations with putting on a show in places so remote) has resulted in efforts being rewarded with smiles and applause. Seeing young and old viewers alike sat in awe of these performances makes for a rather affirming viewing and while the film is a tad too brief to further explore some of its tasty ideas and settings, what it does in its 50 minute running length is quite sufficient.
Anne-Sophie Markus’ cinematography of these close, child-filled, family-centric communities is exceptional and it makes for a learning experience seeing such places represented onscreen. All while Olivier Milchberg’s thoughtful music carries you along, as we meet fascinating characters, teachers and - of course - the central showmen, who continue to dream and create even now. As shown by the spontaneous finish.
This film is a dedication to passion and the spreading of respect and joy to places far and wide, and in turn is a viewing experience that is really quite lovely to witness.
Watch the official movie trailer for The Dwarf in China below...