Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
ND/NF ’17: The Future Perfect
much the first step to assimilation is learning the local language. The
national customs and values will not necessarily follow, but just having a
frame of reference shaped by the lingua franca can change your outlook. At
least that is the experience of a seventeen-year-old Chinese immigrant to
Argentina in Nele Wohlatz’s The Future
which screens during this year’s New Directors/New Films.
years of separation, Xiaobin’s parents have finally brought her over to Buenos
Aires. She never says exactly how long they have been apart, but this is the
first time she has met her five-ish-year-old sister. Frankly, it is not an
especially tearful reunion. They just want her to work. Possibly, they might also
arrange a marriage with another Chinese immigrant, but they expect her lead the
sort of insular unassimilated life they have accepted.
despite her initial difficulties, Xiaobin might actually like living in Buenos
Aires (though her poker face makes it hard to say with absolute certainty).
Regardless, she resolves to learn Spanish after getting summarily fired from a
grocery deli for her lack of fluency. It turns out to be a fruitful decision,
because her lessons also give Xiaobin a social network, beyond Vijay, the young
expatriate Indian computer programmer deli customer, who takes an instant
interest in her.
incredible subtlety, Wohlatz blends the class’s stilted conversation exercises
with apparently real life. Slowly but surely, Xiaobin and her classmates meet
for coffee or enjoy the local sites, exchanging basic but grammatically correct
pleasantries (which can indeed be pleasant). The film’s tense also shifts with
the lessons being taught in class, starting with Xiaobin relating her backstory
in the past tense as part of an oral exam and ending with her speculating on
her possible futures.
all sounds very stiff and effected, but Zhang Xiaobin makes it work, thanks to
her wonderful natural performance. She is scrupulously reserved (some might say
deadpan), but Zhang always projects a sense of alertness and intelligence under
the guarded façade (which the immigrant teen is undoubtedly entitled to).
gets a bad rap, but Future Perfect, a
film helmed by a German expat about a Mandarin speaking Chinese teen acclimating
to Argentina, demonstrates how multinational synergies can produce challenging
and idiosyncratic results. Xiaobin’s future remains uncertain, as it must
always be, but it is rewarding to watch her take small but steady strides and
Perfect is truly a film of offbeat
charm. It is quite highly recommended, but its sixty-five-minute running time
makes theatrical distribution challenging (perhaps some adventurous distributor
could put it on a double-bill with Sanaz Azari’s fifty-minute language-themed I for Iran). ND/NF pairs it with Wohlatz’s
four-minute short Three Sentences About
Argentina, which also takes the form of a language lesson, but represents a
more formal, intellectual exercise. In any event, anyone interested in The Future Perfect should make a point
of seeing it when it screens this
Saturday (3/18) at MoMA and Monday (3/20) at the Walter Reade, as part of ND/NF
Labels: Argentine Cinema, ND/NF '17