Ximei (Andy Cohen/Gaylen Ross, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
Trauma comes in many forms. The Chinese Henan Province’s plasma economy that offered money in exchange for the plasma donations of mainly poor rural farmers was the catalyst for about every kind of it. Over twenty years after the initial campaign, both the donors and the donees share this trauma as the result of poor safety measures causing almost half of the participants to contract AIDS. Now, in the face of a government that largely ignores the needs of the citizens whose lives it changed forever, directors Andy Cohen and Gaylen Ross’s new documentary, Ximei, focuses on one brave woman who is redefining the cultural perception of the condition and retaliating against those who caused it.
Ximei is a person just like any other. And she wants you to know that the other people infected from Henan are as well. While Ximei may be a depiction of a province nearly three decades after a traumatic event, what it really focuses on is just one woman and her struggle to be viewed as an equal member of society. And what it most succeeds at is presenting her in that light, giving attention to her normal life as much as to her struggle to reform the stigma surrounding AIDS in her country. Within minutes, Ximei has the ability to provide glimpses into UN meetings and wedding ceremonies in equal measure. But through the vast amount of hyper-normal situations and stories these characters find themselves part of, the documentary develops a rare empathy for them that manages to seep off the screen.
While overall the film suffers from occasional editing choices that compress time on a macro level, the individual sequences in this film are successful in generating a feeling essential to this sort of inspirational human-rights film: hope. Through its extensive dialogue with the residents of Henan, Ximei explores the processes through which we grieve over shared trauma. But even more so, it provides a sort of cure to that trauma in the form of the solidarity of community. It firmly believes in the power that basic human connection can have, not only for this generation but for the next as well.
Ximei presents simple beauties amongst historical pain, but the pain that overwhelms the lives at the center of it is never easy to watch. It gets even less easy once you realize that it will continue long after the cameras stop rolling. But the courage of Ximei and those like her will too, and that, at the very least, makes it a little easier.