An unsentimental coming-of-age story from veteran Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle), the original Mandarin title of 11 Flowers translates literally to something along the lines of "I am 11." That is a more fitting name for an autobiographical film that does a remarkable job of getting across what it's like to be an innocent preteen boy.
Set in 1975, 11 Flowers is based on the director's experiences growing up in the rural province of Guizhou at the end of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution — a time when families in urban places like Shanghai were asked to move inland where factories were built to help defend the nation's industrial base against potential attack from the U.S.S.R. Though many of the adults pine for the cultural and material riches of their home city, the children are a product of the new environment and possess little understanding of the social upheaval surrounding them.
The story involves a new shirt for an 11-year-old boy — a rare and valuable commodity during Mao's reign — a chance encounter with a fugitive and the growing political unrest in a rural village. But plot details are far from central as 11 Flowers is more interested in evoking a particular time and place from a child's unencumbered perspective. Surprisingly natural performances from an ensemble of young actors keep that goal well within reach. — KEN KORMAN