A documentary about Rebiya Kadeer, formerly the richest woman in China, who now lives in exile in America after being imprisoned for speaking out about the repression of her people, the Uyghurs, in western China.
The 10 Conditions of Love has had an untoward but highly effective marketing campaign. The Chinese government exerted pressure on the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival to pull Jeff Daniels’ documentary from its world premiere in July, and made front page news internationally when MIFF refused to be bullied by Beijing. The film’s subject, Rebiya Kadeer, attended the MIFF screening, an appearance whose Q&A is one of the extras on the DVD release.
The Chinese state has been a first-rate publicist, because it’s doubtful the movie would have gained as much attention as it has without their stand-over tactics. Rebiya Kadeer has a compelling story to tell, but The 10 Conditions of Love rarely does more than recount the facts. At 54 minutes it plays out like an extended news documentary, recording the subject’s life story without ever truly illuminating it.
'This is Rebiya Kadeer," it begins. 'Once the richest woman in China, twice nominated for a Novel [Peace] Prize; she thinks somebody is trying to kill her." A diminutive dynamo, Kadeer now lives in Washington, exiled after being released from a Chinese prison. She now agitates for self-determination for the Uyghurs, a Muslim people living in China’s far west whose land was annexed in 1949 (prior to Tibet experiencing the same).
Kadeer, who doesn’t speak English, goes from meeting to meeting, exhorting her fellow exiles to work harder, while recounting her life story. It’s a fascinating story, but you don’t feel that you know her that much more after hearing it. The political struggle is the film’s spine, so intriguing notions such as the disquiet for it expressed by her daughter and grandson are barely touched upon.
There’s some footage from inside Uyghur/Xinjiang, but it’s strictly travel footage with the odd shot of a police officer and/or grim wall slowed down for menacing effect. Occasionally there are shots to match voiceover, such as a description of Kadeer being under surveillance, where it’s unclear if the shot used is a recreation, stock footage or the real thing. After a radio interview following the news that several of her children remaining in China had been beaten and imprisoned, Kadeer tearfully confesses, 'I want to explode." But she says it to the radio interviewer, not Daniels’ camera.