J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, June 03, 2016

BFF ’16: Fata Morgana (short)

There is nothing like mortality to rekindle traditional practices. This is especially tragically so in the case of parents outliving their children. It is a pain the Wangs feel even more keenly as a result of China’s One Child Policy. Of course, politics is the last thing on their minds as they prepare for their daughter’s funeral in Amelie Wen’s short film Fata Morgana (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Brooklyn Film Festival.

For the Wangs, making the trip to America is no small undertaking. Similarly, it was quite a big deal for their daughter Ting-ting to study abroad here. Wen and co-screenwriter-cinematographer Jon Keng never reveal exactly how she died, but it hardly matters. The implications are the same regardless. Although the couple had always been duly modern and materialistic, he is quite surprised by the lengths and costs she will go to in observance of ancient funerary customs. Conversely, she is frustrated by his reluctance to recognize their final opportunity to provide for Ting-ting.

Of course, their arguments are really about deeper issues. More than anything, their bitter exchanges really reflect their pain and grief. It would compound the tragedy even further if their relationship were irreparably frayed, but that is a very realistic potential development that often comes to pass in such circumstances.

Fata Morgana is a smart, mature, and emotionally shattering film that is profoundly forgiving of its all too human characters, even if they aren’t. Wen has a good ear for dialogue and silences (which are more important in this context). She helms with a sensitive touch, serving as an actor’s director for her impressive international cast.

Mardy Ma (from One Child) is scrupulously quiet and understated yet absolutely devastating as the mourning mother. Similarly, Liu Pei-qi (who co-starred in Zhang Yimou’s classic Story of Qiu Ju and Coming Home) is nearly as poignant as the frustrated father, who can never grieve enough to satisfy his wife. As if they were not laying a sufficient beatdown on your psyche, Anita Liao is also incredibly touching as Ting-ting’s friend Momo.

Preferring to concentrate on the raw family drama, Wen never directly addresses China’s One Child Policy, which makes the film even sadder when viewers think about it in retrospect (what’s more, it is reportedly based on a true story). Of course, the Wangs are probably too old for such regulations to effectively apply anymore, but who can say what might have happened in the past, had things been different? It is a real heart-shredder, but it is also an uncommonly lovely piece of cinema. Highly recommended, Fata Morgana screens this Sunday (6/5) and next Friday (6/10) as part of this year’s Brooklyn Film Festival (the Experiment Edition).

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