Dir/scr: Gao Linyang. China. 2022. 92 minutes
Chinese wedding scenes: this is the heart of Gao Linyang love again, a subtle restraint exercise that demands and rewards the patient’s attention. Presented as a world premiere at the Tiger Competition in Rotterdam, it shared the second special jury prize and won the FIPRESCI prize for international criticism. Other festivals around the world are a given, and with proper handling the film might even have limited theatrical possibilities.
Present contentment is disrupted by unexpected and unwelcome echoes of past trauma.
Adult audiences will respond most strongly to this story of a couple who have been together for three mostly happy decades. A character-driven play that unfolds in a very calm clip, it is given body and soul by the authenticity of Li Xuejian and Song Xiaoying as Xi’an-based protagonists Nie Li and Nie Suzhen.
The closest Western parallel is probably that of Andrew Haigh 45 years old (2015): in both films, present contentment is disturbed by unexpected and unwelcome echoes of past traumas. In the opening scene, Li learns that the body of his long-dead ex-wife must be moved from her grave in Li’s remote home province of Shanxi. The elderly man is thus encouraged to reflect on his impending death and its practicalities. He and his wife were previously married and now both of their ex-spouses are deceased; whose ashes should be buried together?
The interlaced memento mori elements of the film are enhanced by a sequence of black and dry humor. But discussing such topics causes Suzhen, who usually suppresses her feelings, considerable distress. The emotional waters are further muddied by partial revelations relating to violent events at the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 (“we got caught up in the Red Guard struggles”) that affected the couple, their families and friends.
The exact nature of what happened and why remains somewhat opaque: few characters here are particularly talkative and – as is often the case with long-term married couples – communication is often done by a look, a touch or meaningful silence. . Much of it is left out; sequences featuring dialogue outnumber scenes of contemplation, contemplation, and observation, often in the Nies’ cluttered apartment, and often after dark.
We become so immersed in this domestic space that the sudden shift to the wide open spaces of rural Shanxi, just after the 45-minute mark, is a deftly managed surprise (the four editors include Jia Zhang-ke regular Matthieu Laclau and Hongyu Yang). Li travels to the location of his ex-wife’s grave, leaving Suzhen alone in Xi’an. The duo is thus separated for 20 minutes of walking time, reuniting for a climactic and cathartic quarter of an hour during which Suzhen’s reserve dam ends up breaking. Thanks in large part to Song’s finely etched performance, the impact of this moment is powerful and feels fully earned.
Previously known for co-writing Shujun Wei’s youth road movie walk in the wind (2020), Gao manages to enrich its seemingly slender story with a myriad of subplots and minor observations. He is clearly sensitive to the broader political and sociological aspects of everyday Chinese life – the fact that the film, set in late 2019, includes TV reporting on the Hong Kong protests is just a hint that he is This is an independent film and not state-approved or state-subsidized production.
One of Gao’s main concerns is the severing of traditionally strong family ties under the demands and constraints of the 21st century, but there’s more than a whiff of the 1953 Ozu classic. Tokyo storey in this chronicle of how younger generations blithely overlook or ignore the needs of their elders – and the Japanese master would likely approve of the way Shen Junyi’s widescreen cinematography exploits the angles, reflections and confines of the apartment. of the couple. The cautious avoidance of sentimentality in the image, meanwhile, is typified by Wang Xiaomu’s score with its elegant, sparingly deployed guitar notes.
Production Company: The Seventh Art Pictures
International Sales: The Seventh Art Pictures, [email protected]
Producers: Liang Jing, Guan Hu, Wang Donghui, Zhu Wenjiu, Justine O.
Production design: Shi Rongfeng
Editing: Matthieu Laclau, Yang Hongyu, Tom Hsin-Ming Lin, Gao Linyang
Photography: Shen Junyi
Music: Wang Xiaomu
Main Cast: Li Xuejian, Song Xiaoying