Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
SBIFF ’16: She Walks
would think French immigration has more dangerous illegals to worry about than
Chinese street walkers—and perhaps they do. Still, any extra attention is
dangerous for Lin Aiyu. Keenly aware of her precarious position, Lin will try
to work the only angle left to her when she is pulled into some dodgy
underworld dealings in Naël Marandin’s She
screens during the 2016 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
once worked as a maid for a snobby, established French-Chinese family, but like
many of her street walking colleagues, she tired of the rigid control and
meager pay. She now sends home a small remittance each month, scrimped from her
work as an off-the-books home care-giver and the tricks she turns during the
day. While she prefers the current arrangement (despite the obvious hazards),
she no longer has legal standing to remain in France. Nonetheless, old Monsieur
Kieffer is quite fond of Lin and her daughter Cherise, but it is his son who
controls the purse-strings.
fateful morning, Daniel Alvès, the sleazy neighbor across the street, forces
his way into Kieffer’s flat behind the startled Lin. Initially, he promises to
only stay one day, but he soon settles into the storeroom. As they can clearly
see, groups of thugs are constantly giving his place a good turning over.
Eventually, Lin gives him an ultimatum. He can continue to stay, but he must
agree to marry her, thereby granting her legal status. However, Lin is
determined to keep their bargain a secret from Cherise, just as she does with
her prostitution sideline.
question, Marandin conceived She Walks with
the best of intentions, but he needed someone to edit out the awkwardness (and
unintentional irony) of his press bio, which states the film was “inspired by
his reaching out to Chinese women working as prostitutes in Paris.” Reaching
out, was he? Be that as it may, She Walks
never exploits its female cast members. Inevitably, there are several
graphic sex scenes, but they are the sort that will turn off reasonably healthy
viewers, rather than heating them up.
Marandin also forged a high degree of trust with his lead, Lan Qui. She carries
the film with an extraordinarily brave and revealing performance. Physically
and emotionally, she opens herself up to the audience, holding back nothing. It
is quiet, deeply grounded work, yet raw as anything you’ve seen. In fact, the
entire ensemble of Chinese street walkers is quite exceptional. They are funny
and earthy, still attractive but convincingly weathered by life. Listening to
them banter and gossip is really the only respite Marandin offers us, because She Walks is otherwise unremittingly
downbeat and pessimistic.
Of course, a depressing film is still well worth
seeing, if it is well made and there is a point to all the misery it rubs our
nose in. That is definitely true for She
Walks. We do sympathize wholeheartedly with the exploited Chinese women,
who collectively do not represent a fraction of the threat posed by a lone
Islamist Isis sympathizer. It is also significant as a French film allowing an
Asian women a starring role. Lan Qui fully capitalizes on the moment, making an
indelible impression. Cate Blanchett’s embarrassing Joan Crawford shtick in Carol looks
like amateur hour compared to her. Recommended for mature audiences, She Walks screens this Wednesday (2/10)
and Friday (2/12), as part of this year’s Santa Barbara International Film
Labels: French Cinema, SBIFF '16