Review by Sean Boelman
Ximei, directed by Andy Cohen and Gaylen Ross, is a new documentary dealing with a social issue of which a majority of audiences are likely unaware. Often shocking and consistently compelling, this film manages to be both heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time thanks to the subject’s resilience.
The movie follows the eponymous subject, a Chinese peasant who contracted AIDS after receiving a contaminated blood transfusion. Perhaps what makes this film so effective and emotional is the subject’s particular situation. Although any AIDS patient is immediately sympathetic because of their condition, the fact that Ximei was so victimized by the system in this case makes it all the more emotionally impactful.
Over the course of the movie, Cohen and Ross tell the story of various people with whom Ximei has interacted, some of whom are ashamed of showing their face or revealing their identity for fear of being ostracized for their condition. Although there is no cure for the disease, it is immensely saddening to see the lack of accessibility to effective treatment of the symptoms, hereby resulting in this upsetting discrimination.
The film is at its best when it is telling the stories of these individual people. Although some context is necessary to understand why the story is so timely and relevant, the segments of the movie that try to criticize the system that resulted in Ximei getting infected aren’t as effective. There is definitely an issue with the way that situation was handled by the Chinese government, but the film doesn’t explore it with sufficient depth.
At some point, one would expect that the movie would become emotionally draining, hearing all of these tragic stories of people who were infected with an incurable disease due to medical negligence, but ultimately, this story is one of hope. A significant focus is placed on Ximei’s activism and how she is trying to help her fellow patients to live a better life.
However, since there is so much going on in the film, Cohen and Ross don’t quite nail the balance between the light and dark elements of the story. There are some absolutely wonderful moments in the movie, but as a whole, the film feels somewhat uneven. Thankfully, the message is powerful enough to come across regardless, but this almost feels like it was too big of a story to tell in a single movie.
On a technical level, the film is a bit rough around the edges, but that can be expected given the environments in which the movie was shot. Towards the end of the film, there is even a portion explaining some of the challenges that the filmmakers faced in trying to tell this story while respecting the needs and wishes of the people appearing in front of the camera and complying with the restrictions placed upon them by outside forces.
Ximei isn’t a perfect documentary, nor is it the most effective documentary to be released about AIDS in recent memory. That said, Andy Cohen and Gaylen Ross have crafted a compelling character study with a strong message about empathy and hope.
Ximei is now playing in theaters.