Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 05, 2017 4:12 pm 
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"Apprendre une langue, c'est vivre de nouveau"

This film reminded me of Ionesco. He's said to have been inspired to write his Theater of the Absurd plays by reading dialogues in language textbooks. Nele Wohlatz creates a delicately surreal atmosphere by following newcomers to Argentina, a Chinese girl and an Indian man who have a romance while communicating only in Spanish, of which they have a limited knowledge. At the same time I also thought of the folksy approach to immigrant interaction we get in the classic story by Leo Rosten, "The Education of H*Y*M*A*NK*A*P*L*A*N." This is a charming and original film.

Fired from a deli because she doesn't know enough Spanish words to serve customers, Xiaobin finds work at a different Chinese grocery store where her knowledge of mandarin is sufficient to make her useful. There she meets a young Indian man called Vijay (Saroj Malik). She's pretty and young, and Vijay is immediately interested. Xiaobin goes against her relative, who says they're going back to China and studying Spanish is a waste of time. Xiaobin saves up enough money from her job to pay for language classes. For her it's an opportunity to break away from the restrictions of her traditional family, to expand her future possibilities and break free of the more dire restrictions of being a foreigner.

Vijay comes a courting, a role that's defined largely just by body language, because while his Spanish is limited, Xiaobin's is even more rudimentary. Vijay almost at once declares to Xiaobin that he loves here and wants to marry her. He is barred by limited Spanish on both sides from conducting an elaborate courtship, but he's also under pressure from his family to find a wife. She knows this is going too fast, but she also lives in the fantasy. Speaking a new language makes it all feel like just a game and things move fast because there are no linguistic complexities to slow them down.

The blurb calls this an "idea-rich work." Indeed: the subjects of simple language and complicated situations, and simple situations complicated by language, lead inevitably down the road of linguistic philosophy. Do we know more than we can say? Because we can say something does it mean that we know something?

The conceit of this short feature grows out of moving along to better knowledge of the target language. It's that as the student moves toward conditional verbs, she also moves into consideration of multiple possibilities in her own young life. The film is made up of a series of short scenes with dialogue after the manner of language learning texts. A special guest is the talented and multilingual young actor Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, who arrives speaking fluent and very convincing mandarin. But he says he's just acting. Apprendre une langue, c'est vivre de nouveau, goes the saying: speaking a new language is a performance, taking on a new role and a new life.

There are many opportunities for drollness and for romantic hints. At the same time it's hard to sustain these things for very long. And the pastel-pale color processing of the film gives it a kind of wanness. But this little film is as original as it is universal.

The Future Pefrect/El futuro perfecto, 65 mins., debuted at Locarno 2016, winning the Best First Feature prize. It was screened for this review as part of the Mar. 2017 FSLC-MoMA New Directors/New Films series.

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