Playground constructs a duality of experience for its child protagonist in her relationship with her mother: frightening chaos on the one hand, and silence on the other. Through this duality, Yaxing Lin’s 16-minute drama frames the girl against all adult life as a scale for her smallness, a measure in its stead for her loneliness in an existence that has her mother at its centre.
The film opens with Jiajia (Ziqi Zhao) making a solitary journey to search for her mother. In itself, it is no grand narrative; her mother has only gone to work, and Jiajia has come looking for her as children do. And yet, there is a larger experience at play that the film strives to develop. For the entirety of the film, Jiajia’s life revolves around being with or searching for her mother. Qun Lin (Xueqing Cai), Jiajia’s mother has trouble with employment. In her latest job, she is a sex worker. Her daughter coming to her workplace has specific consequences for her.
The present is juxtaposed with scenes of the recent past. Qun Lin must revive her bond with her daughter after being away for a long time, promising to find work close by and not go away again. In the present, she has to ask Jiajia not to address her as her mother.
The picturisation is terribly impactful. Jiajia is the smallest human on the premises, visibly out of her depth. The patrons take no pity on the child. As music and dancing bodies build up around her, Jiajia’s size compares with the adults, and we get a picture of a frightening world in which Jia is for all intents and purposes, entirely alone. Men are women alike remind one of vultures. The streets outside and Jiajia’s home are both quiet places in comparison, though that says nothing about her safety or loneliness. They should pose something of a challenge in comparison to the club sequence, yet they might just be the strongest parts due to their subdued quality. The film deliberately keeps the grandmother in the peripheries in order to examine the experience of single motherhood through both Qun Lin and Jiajia. In the absence of the club’s minefield and another family member, the film distils the world down to just mother and daughter.
Playground traces the mother through the eyes of the daughter who witnesses her arrivals and departures with trepidation and heartbreak. Mother might leave again, mother may never return again. And at the end of it all, who was Mother?
Watch Playground Short Film Trailer
Playground: The View from the Left Behind Daughter