J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Cinema on the Edge: Female Directors

If you think it is tough for women to get a fair shake in Hollywood, try breaking into the business in Mainland China. Two young and jaded film school grads have been stymied thus far, so they are making their own darned movie now. However, their hybrid mockumentary will reveal more than they anticipated in Yang Mingming’s Female Directors (clip here), which screens as part of Cinema on the Edge, a retrospective tribute to the Beijing Independent Film Festival now playing in New York at Anthology Film Archives.

Even though they are the compromised guardians of Mao’s leftist revolution, the Party is rather puritanical when it comes to sex. It therefore takes all of ten seconds to figure out why Female Directors had to be produced outside the system. There is more “slut-shaming” in its caustic forty-three minutes than in Amy Schumer’s sole film to-date, repeatedly played ten times in a row. Of course, it is important to remember, when Yang and her cohort Guo Yue make naughty jokes, they are actually running real risks with the powers-that-be, whereas Schumer is hailed as the new Sarah Silverman, until the next one comes along.

Soon after Ah-ming and Yue Yue (their fictionalized personas) commence shooting their DIY chronicle of creative unemployment, they discover they have both been carrying on with the same married sugar daddy. Neither professes to feel much for the wealthy little creep, yet they each clearly resent how the other has allegedly cashed-in on the relationship. Actually, they use terms for this that would be inappropriate for a family site. Will their friendship survive? Will they finish the film? Will they confront the man they dub “Mr. Short?”

Given the running time, we will have these answers in short order, but one thing is certain—they will not be welcomed into the filmmaking establishment anytime soon. At one time, Yue Yue might have had a shot. She joined the Party during her high school years, but was expelled for attending an Ingmar Bergman retrospective, which is depressing in multiple ways.

Even by western standards, Female Directors’ dialogue is unusually explicit, but the film never shows any actual whoopee-making and very little skin. Compared to Ah-ming and Yue Yue, the Sex in the City characters sound like Amish women at a quilting circle. Yang and Guo Yue are incredibly charismatic and acerbic, wielding their cutting dialogue like machetes. They seem so believably messy and frazzled playing off each other, the entire film feels uncomfortably real.

Regardless, Yang is critical of more than just double standards and glass ceilings. The film is also disrespectful to most forms of authority. As a result, the finished package is sly, tight, and surprisingly refreshing, but absolutely not for kids. Recommended for fans of adult meta-comedy, Female Directors screens with Listening to Third Grandmother’s Stories this Sunday (8/9) and Wednesday (8/12) as part of Cinema on the Edge at Anthology Film Archives.

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