Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 29, 2019 9:05 pm 
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Elephants sitting still?

Xing Jiang reportedly debuted with an austere self-financed film about an old man at the top of a mountain in winter. Things have hardly become less chilly or austere here in this sophomore effort, funded somewhat inexplicably by the tech conglomerate Alibaba. It is in wide screen "high-contrast monochrome" (I'll be relying as here on Clarence Tsui's Hollywood Reporter review), so the look itself is elegantly chilly. It focuses on a Chinese family in Manchuria headed by Lao Si (Gao Qiang).

It's the end of the War, 1944, and the Japanese are desperately trying to avoid the fact that their empire is crumbling, and are about to take Lao Si's three son's away to hard labor camps. The local Japanese commander (Hibino Akira) is at Lao Si's house to claim the sons. The old man is desperate to maintain his family line. He wants his young daughter-in-law to be impregnated, and since her husband (Dong Lianghai) is impotent, he gets the marriage annulled so one of the younger sons can step in and do the job.

The second son Lao Er (Yuan Liguo) decides to flee the house to join the guerrillas instead. The timid youngest son Lao San (Liu Di) tries to do what his father wants but fails before they are taken away. Things get more complicated when later Lao San escapes labor camp and is nursed back to health by the long-suffering, mostly silent wife Kun (Yan Bingyan. In the closeness of her nursing Lao San back to health, he does get her pregnant. Then Lao Er reappears and nearly kills Kun "out of jealousy and disgust" at this event. After Kun is pregnant, Lao Si arrabged a quick cover marriage between her and the mentally handicapped son of the village elder statesman.

All of this is grim but also not without its comic side. The use of long takes, the austere style, lengthily focused on menial tasks by Kun in the grubby, dark, unheated interiors of Lao Si's farmstead, and the stoical behavior make this a prime example of slow cinema. One early scene where a man and a woman, heavily bundled up against the cold, sit and stare mutely at each other for at least five minutes, almost lost me.

Tsui points out this film is represented by Rediance and that it is the Beijing outfit that "helped bring Cai Chengjie's black-and-white supernatural satire The Widowed Witch (a.k.a.Shaman) and Hu Bo's soul-shattering An Elephant Sitting Still to international prominence last year." They may not have quite that kind of luck this time.

Also reviewed at Rotterdam by Wendy Ide for Screen Daily.

Winter After Winter('Dong Qu Dong You Lai'), 110 mins., debuted at Rotterdam, showing in at least five other international festivals. It was screened for this review as part of the NYAFF.
NYAFF showtime:
Friday, July 5
3:00 PM

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