Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2021 1:59 pm 
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QUEENA LI: BIPOLAR (2021) - ND/NF

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HA KAILANG IN BIPOLAR

On the road in Tibet with a lobster

Richard Gray on Letterboxd says "Queena Li’s Orpheus by way of Alice tale is all about the journey. The best use of a lobster in a narrative since Annie Hall." The Girl (Leah Dou) may be getting over something. Maybe her ridiculously pretty boyfriend (He Kailang), who shows up in swimming pool flashbacks inexplicably suicidal (I guess the movie's named for him), did commit suicide. Or maybe he's her, and maybe her alleged career as a singer-songwriter hit a snag. At the outset we see the Girl in a phone booth getting bad news. Her Tibetan pilgrimage takes a turn at a fancy Lhasa, Tibet hotel. She has arrived here alone on her birthday. Her room is big but dinky. She steals the "rainbow" lobster enshrined in a lobby display as a holy creature, and carries it beside her in her car as she goes wandering cross country.

Leah Dou, a singer-songwriter fluent in English as well as Cantonese, is the daughter of the Cantonese pop superstar Faye Wong who played the winsome Faye in Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express. So whe comes from fame and privilege, and she projects ennui and entitlement, but modestly. The news the Girl receives in the phone booth brings pain and her body starts to shiver. As she cringes in the booth and memories take over for a while - the film announcing itself as more surreal than, in the routine of its road picture trajectory, it actually winds up being. Sometimes shadows drift underwater though, and there is the occasional flashback to Pretty Boy. What continues apart the nice music is Ke Yuming's beautiful, fluffy widescreen black and white cinematography, ultimately the dominant thing. It is is heavy on overlaid images and framing shots using drapery, shrubbery, leaves and branches. Later the Girl's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere - the adventure begins - and somehow she winds up continuing in a very local pickup truck with lots of folkloric decoration and fringes. Girl doesn't know where she is going. At a temple or school she is commended for saying this. Nobody knows, someone says, but they usually can't admit it. Use is made of Tibetan holy places and wooly bearded, matter-of-fact old Tibetan men (and a boy monk) ready with a chuckle and a word of wisdom. And there is a flamboyant wig salesman played by a real local celebrity, the Tibetan/Bhutanese lama, filmmaker and writer Khyentse Norbu. Girl's English comes in handy when an American on horseback invites her to a feast. A young woman who says she's pregnant hitches a ride. They release some caged animals, including an elephant.

The [url="https://www.screendaily.com/bipolar-rotterdam-review/5156793.article"]Screen Daily[/url] Rotterdam review describes the film as full of challenging hints and portents (it's certainly rich in alternate possibilities) and says that "Audiences game enough to come along for the ride might not all end up at the same destination; this isn’t the kind of filmmaking which comes with a map." No, it doesn't. But the meandering road trip movie is a familiar genre and though this one is teasing and pretty, it's not so memorable. The lobster may be what people will remember. It's often talked of. The old question of whether it hurts for a lobster to be dropped into a pot of boiling water comes up repeatedly. If only David Foster Wallace could have been on hand to provide a thoughtful answer. The lobster develops serious health problems, and ultimately the Girl's aim to deposit it at the (famous?) Ming Island Lighthouse is thwarted for several reasons, a main one being that there is no lighthouse. Try as one might, one starts to care how things will turn out even if it may just be that they'll end; but darned if there isn't a sense of an ending, somehow.. A mite long, though.

Bipolar, 107 mins., debuted Feb. 3, 2021 at Rotterdam. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films at MoMA and Lincoln Center, hybrid post-pandemic version Apr. 28-May 8, 2021.

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LEAH DOU IN BIPOLAR

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