EIFF 2012: Here, Then
In a rural Chinese town a young couple sit silently facing each other. It is a good few minutes before sparse words are spoken. The frigid atmosphere is overwhelming as an agonisingly slow zoom takes us through the dirt smeared window and back again. As we move in and out of their lives the emotional distance is overwhelming. It's a bravura take. Ultimately though this same detachment grows between the audience and onscreen happenings. Director Mao Mao displays a mastery of visual storytelling in this piece on directionless Chinese youth, but his honed craft and techniques are let down by an overly ponderous narrative. In a rare piece of dialogue a girl asks "are we going somewhere?" and I couldn't help but wonder the same. Visual depth is unmatched by emotion. Characters are placed vertically within the frame, often coming in and out of focus just as their lives fade into disillusionment and uncertainty.
This is reminiscent of masters Lou Ye and Jia Zhang Ke in tone and gorgeous aesthetic, but it is a cold beauty. One single moment has it all though. A futureless young girl loiters in the street, suddenly nodding violently to tinny techno. She turns to stare through the camera, directly at us, with such accusatory venom. It's an uncomfortably prolonged moment that will remain with me, utterly affecting. In the end though this story of haunted alienation evoked that same feeling in this audience member. Perhaps that's the point? [Alan Bett]