From 1941 – 1979, Sidney Rittenberg was the highest ranking American Citizen in the Chinese government. He was an advisor to Mao Zedong, played a role during the Chinese cultural revolution, and spent many years of his life in Chinese prison. “The Revolutionary” is the story of his experience in China, and how he and his movement were ultimately led astray.
First, “The Revolutionary” is a bare-bones approach to biographical documentary. It is a 90-minute talking head interview, interspersed with scant b-roll and narration. It lacks stylistic flair. Some might find this format dull and undynamic, but…
Second, “The Revolutionary” ranks at the top of the five films I viewed for the festival. What it lacks in style, it makes up for in substance. Rittenberg’s unwavering honesty lets us in on the mind of a man whose ideology led him to dark places and darker deeds.
“The Revolutionary” is a story we see time and time again. As Rittenberg ruminates towards the end of the film, his experience is “what happens when people interact with no holds barred. When everything is up for grabs. When you can do it any way you want, with anyone you choose. How do people behave under those circumstances?”
It may be a story we see time and time again, but it’s a tale worth minding.
This is an excellent iteration of it.