Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:27 pm 
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Having a child in rural China

The story told here is of a young woman, Huan Huan, who is having an adulterous affair with a boyish-looking married doctor called Wang. Huan Huan herself is married to a fat, brutish gambler, Yue Lin, a squirmy little man who sits around smoking cigarettes. Dr. Wang is married to Chunfeng, who can't seem to produce a child. Yue Lin winds up taking bribes from Wang for keeping mum about Wang's affair with his wife. Wang also gives Huan Huan pocket money and pays a large fine to the local family planning committee so Huan Huan's brother can return to the village.

When Yue Lin is humiliated by the police and Wang's clinic is shut down by the local government so he has no more money for payoffs, Yue Lin beats Wang to death. Now Huan Huan is pregnant, evidently by Dr. Wang. As the film draws to a close Chunfeng and Huan Huan are out by the local lake talking about Chenfeng raising Huan Huan's baby as her own. All along Huan Huan has wanted to leave her village to work in a big city, but it's looking as if she won't.

This first feature feels like student work of a rather stiff kind. The choppy editing and lousy acting reminded me of Ying Liang's 2005 Taking Father Home. If the latter looked even cruder that's because video cameras keep getting better. While static camera setups are poetic in the hands of Asian artists like Tsai Ming-liang or Hou Hsiau-shen, they just seem like the easy way out here.

Song Chuan's version of rural China is a place of petty corruption, mutual blackmail, a life without beauty or grace. People ignore the "one child" law, and the local police exact bribes for having this overlooked, and for other things. Punctuating the film are excerpts from very curious song and dance videos (real, not made by the filmmaker) in which men and women apparently advertise prostitution, or maybe just sex. These are shown at public gatherings that include not only old folks, but kids. The characters of Huan Huan often use obscene and abusive language.

You wouldn't think any of this, which by the way has none of the style or penetration of the films of Jia Zhang-ke or his generation, was the sort of thing the Chinese government would want shown as part of contemporary reality, and yet this was shown at the UCCA (Ullen Center for Contemporary Arts) in Beijing, and was supplied to the Film Society of Lincoln Center by the Chinese Consulate General in New York. The 32-year-old Song's film was nominated for best feature at the second China (Hangzhou) Youth Digital Film Contest. And he is a graduate of the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts, has worked in films and TV since 2006 and worked on his own films since 2002.

Huan Huan may have been chosen for festival showing as an artifact of the modern China and again, as with the (far more accomplished) filmmakers from Iran, some films are sought by international festivals to encourage underground work challenging the status quo in their repressive country of origin, regardless of artistic accomplishment.

Huan Huan was watched for this review among screenings for the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center March 21-April 1, 2012 series New Directors/New Films, and will be shown to the public in ND/NF at these times and places:

Tuesday, March 27th | 9 PM | FSLC
Wednesday, March 28th | 6 PM | MoMA

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