Stonehead, as part of this year’s Generation Kplus section, describes the tale of how a brand new football carries hope, desire and signifies the plight of “left-behind children” in a small village of Guangxi Province.
Chinese director Zhao Xiang’s (赵祥) debut feature Stonehead uses the gaze of the 10-year-old child, nicknamed Stonehead, and an almost documentarian portrayal of the social phenomenon of China’s “left-behind children” (留守儿童), recalling a crueller childhood odyssey than even Abbas Kiarostami’s classic Where is My Friend’s Home? While villagers migrate to big cities in order to better support their families financially, many children stay behind with their grandparents, only seeing their parents once per year, if that.
Stonehead’s desire to keep a new football awarded to him by a government official intact, for his father’s return evolves into a moral dilemma that is too heavy a burden for him to bear, especially as his father exists merely as a distant - if not completely absent - voice through the only phone line in the village. His teacher wants him to share the football with the entire class, but Stonehead is determined not to taint it. How far is he ready to go in order not to obey this order; to tell the truth or to lie; to protect his best friend or to protect oneself; to gang up or not to gang up? During his odyssey in search of a replacement football, these difficult moral questions resonate with the untamed rules within a child’s world, hypocrisy and snobbishness in the adults’ world, and the suppressed emotions in the world of left – behind children, all framed by the wide discrepancy between cities and villages.
It is unclear how much Stonehead and his classmates are playing out their own stories. Their performances are strikingly natural, their eyes being filled with premature understanding, unexpressed suffering, and an unnatural resilience for their age. Stonehead is a tender film dedicated to love beyond words, the profound parent-children connection despite distance, and those who are left behind but who strive to hold the lives together.