turns out you can go home again, but you’re likely to get antsy after
awhile. A grown daughter and her aging
but still vital parents gently reminisce in Song Fang’s Memories Look at Me, produced by trailblazing independent Chinese filmmaker
Jia Zhangke, which screens tomorrow as a main slate selection of the 50th New York Film Festival.
Fang plays herself, as do her parents, Song Di-jin and Ye Yu-zhu, as well as
her brother, Yuan. Since they are really
related, the on-screen relationships are all quite believable. Yet, there is hardly a hint of family
dysfunction here. Visiting from Beijing,
Song stays in her parents’ Nanjing flat, which looks quite livable. Her brother drops by as does her bright young
niece. Frankly, her parents appear to be
the model of middle class respectability and their granddaughter should have a
promising future ahead of her. Song
though, is less sure of her place in the world.
Memories is like a
Digital Generation attempt at an Ozu movie.
That is all very nice, but it leaves the audience with a raft of
questions. First and foremost, how did her
borderline bourgeoisie parents survive the Cultural Revolution, which they were
surely old enough to witness first hand?
Yes, they share memories of hard times, including hunger and hospitals,
but are these oblique references to Maoist persecution or merely the experiences
of those who have lived through an era of sharp economic contraction? As a close second, the thirty-ish Song’s
status as one of three siblings in One Child China begs for further explanation
Song presents an intriguingly oblique view of the new China, through
discussions of the relative merit of different forms of insurance (isn’t the
Party insurance enough for everyone?) and the hectic on-the-go lifestyle of
Beijingers. Memories also subtly reminds audiences of the importance of family,
in an almost Confucian sense, without ever remotely approaching didacticism.
Of the many hats writer-director-editor-co-producer
Song wears, her lead performance as her pseudo-self is easily the most
impressive. She has moments of simple, straight
forward regret that are truly honest and powerful. However, her sense of pacing is a bit
sluggish, making some of her mentor Jia’s more deliberate films seem almost
break-neck by comparison. The DIY
dGenerate digital cinematography is what it is.
Those who have seen a number of Chinese art films will know what to
expect. Well acted but a tough go for
most viewers, Memories Look at Me is
best saved for die-hard China-watchers and Sinophiles when it screens tomorrow
afternoon (10/7) at Alice Tully Hall, as part of the 2012 New York Film
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Jia Zhangke, NYFF '12, Song Fang