The final generation of women whose feet were bound as children is dying out in rural China, where first-time documaker Bai Budan spent a year recording the daily travails of an elderly couple in “Little Feet.” Fascination and horror mix when main subject — pushing 80, with feet bound from age seven — finally exposes her crippled nubs. Her husband’s ferocious reaction to this “obscene” revelation encapsulates male supremacy. Artfully framed docu took the Joris Ivens prize at Paris’ Cinema du Reel fest.
Bai’s film began as a study of the vanishing custom (begun in the 10th century and outlawed in 1949) in the helmer’s province of Shanxi, southwest of Beijing. But it morphed into a disturbing meditation on the plight of the elderly who, quite literally, must work until their dying day. Central couple’s lives revolve around trying to plant and harvest some oats, sesame and potatoes, feed their mule, collect water and convince ungrateful absentee children to lend a hand in the scrubby fields or contribute a few yuan. The sight of a woman hobbling on canes is striking and unsettling; no one would suspect it’s the 21st century.