Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 14, 2020 4:09 pm 
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Young Chinese woman director enters her own personal Nouvelle Vague

Zheng Lu Zinyuan, who studied film at USC, has done something a bit different for her feature debut. She has not made a bildingsroman, nor a portrait of a Chinese generation in transition like the early films of Jia Zhang-ke. This is a cinematic study in hanging out. It's vaguely autobiographical - the main character, Muzi (Jin Jing), is of the director's sex, age and generation. But if you focus too much on what's happening in the picture, you're missing the point. The delight of this loosely-slung-together piece of casually experimental filmmaking- and it does have such delight to offer if you don't push it too hard - is in its casualness, a diaristic flavor so loose even the specificity of a diary entry is asking a bit much. It's just the celebration of being there, letting the camera follow things around.

Ture, this is in its meandering way a vaguely autobiographical portrait of Muzi as she returns to her waterway-rich, typically torn-apart 9-million population mainland Chinese hometown of Hangzhou (also Zheng's city of origin). She is ostensibly on hand there for New Year's celebrations, personal reunions with family members, and her twenty-second birthday. But mainly she's hanging out. She has two possible boyfriends. There's the young laidback painter and photographer about her age, Yu Fei (Chen Zhou), and the older new guy she meets, , Dong Kang-ming, a drummer who runs a bar. Dong may be more interesting to the young Muzi. But is he more interested? But how interested is Yu Fei? These are questions casually explored off and on in the film.

There's also an old apartment her parents used to occupy that's vacant now, still rented by her father. She goes there with Yu Fei, who has come to Hangzhou by surprise to see Muzi and, in a bedroom, they have sex. At that point, they're clearly both interested.

But what's "happening" is beside the point. This is more the opportunity to meander around the town, try to find something familiar, to cast an eye around. For us and for Zheng Lu Zinyuan, it's also an opportunity to admire the soft black and white of her talented young Belgian cinematographer, Matthias Delvaux (a China resident and dp of Zhou Ziyang's Old Beast, who also briefly plays the new boyfriend of Min (Liu Dan), Muzi's mother. Delvaux lightens everything a bit, and, more radically, a couple of times gives us the negative so everything goes exotic and dark. Mostly Delvaux here makes things look like seventies fashion photography, mitigating the harshness of modern China and further encapsulate Muzi in her own personal world - except for one thing: even during an intense sex scene, we hear the clangor of the city outside.

Muzi says every time she comes back to Hangzhou it seems stranger to her, and her personal world is fragmented. Her musician father, Feng (Ye Hongming) has remarried and is the father of a young daughter, and her mother seems to get drunk a lot and have various boyfriends. All are big smokers. Smoking and drinking have always been screen staples; this is a reminder of that. And of how much this feels, at moments, like a French film. Sadly, without Paris. But there's something new here.

And yet the chief appeal of Zheng Lu Zinyuan's filmmaking may be its unformed quality, or its ability to capture that quality in its protagonist - the sense that while Muzi is moving around the fragments of her family and the great, transforming city independently, she is yet uncertain, a quality suggested by her clunky shoes. Clearly the director has some clunky shoes too, but not as clunky; and her boldness and freedom bode well.


The Cloud in Her Room 她房间里的云 (Ta fang jian li de yun), 101 mins., debuted at Rotterdam, where it won the top prize, the Tiger Award. It is included in 6-10 other international festivals with other nomnations and awards, including Taipei, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dec. 13, 2020 in the postponed Dec. virtual pandemic edition New Directors/New Films series, as part of which it was screened for this review.


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