A sign of a good short film is that it leaves you wanting more of the story when it ends, and “The Speech” does so much in its 25 minute runtime that it could easily be made into a feature. The autobiographical coming of age story follows Zhenzhen (Harmonie He), a third-grade student who has been chosen to give a speech in front of her entire school.
So many issues are tackled, from the stress that many children face when it comes to meeting the high expectations of teachers and parents, to the questioning of inconsistent rules, to the fine art of discovering yourself and growing up. The very personal story is set in Beijing in 2003, right before a deadly SARS outbreak. The city is closed, and the students of a private boarding school have been quarantined inside. A trio of eight-year-old girls explore their very different ways of making sense of the world, all while locked down with their peers.
The most compelling part of the film touches on the different reactions to a pandemic from the viewpoint of a child versus that of the adults in charge. The kids remain happy, mostly unaware of the death that is happening outside of their protective bubble. The children sense something is wrong because they can only visit their parents at a distance through a chain link fence, and they sense the dread as their teachers watch somber news reports.
Writer / director Haohao Yan is a talented storyteller and also has a wonderful eye for filmmaking. “The Speech” is a good-looking short that is strong in every department (including the acting, writing, and editing). It’s also very timely in the age of COVID-19.
By: Louisa Moore