Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Thursday, April 27, time 5.30 PM

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Someone To Talk To

In today’s world, problems communicating with those around us and the progressive isolation it leads to is a serious issue, which affects not only personal relationships but also the one between nations and their people. The debut of the young director Liu Yulin revolves around this subject. It is based on the novel One Sentence Worth Ten Thousand by Liu Zhenyun – the director’s father – published in 2008, which won the Mao Dun Literary Prize in 2011. The novel has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude for its representation of the existential solitude felt by recent Chinese generations and the search for a soul mate.

The film is set in Henan and opens with a scene that would appear wholly comical if it were not to be an omen of the drama to come: the young couple Aiguo and Lina are at the registry office to get married, and as they enthusiastically tell the official that they are getting married because they can talk about everything, suddenly another couple arrive, shoving them out of the way to curtly ask the same official to register their divorce, due to the fact that they don’t exchange a word anymore… Ten years pass, and Aiguo and Lina find themselves in exactly the same situation as the couple asking for a divorce: their animated conversations have dwindled to zero.
They were ambitious idealists, but they find themselves living a modest, somewhat squalid life, even if they appear to be materially well-off. Aiguo was in the military when they wed, but he ended up being a cobbler, while Lina works in a factory. They had a daughter, who is somewhat neglected due to them being overly preoccupied by their existential problems. Lina has an affair with a colleague, who is married to a baker; in the company of her lover, Lina seems to rediscover the joys of life, the ease of conversing that she used to have with her husband, even if it is the sense of the forbidden which adds spice to the clandestine relationship.

Aiguo seems to be spineless, but when jealousy takes hold, he springs back to life and begins tracking his wife’s every move, using professional techniques, before being drawn into the depths of depression. All his friends advise him to leave his wife, but he refuses, and when Lina runs off for the second time with her lover, he decides to kill them, more out of pride than desperation – the town abounds with gossip about them, and Lina’s lover’s wife threatens to kill herself if her honour is not restored. Aiguo sets off half-heartedly to find them, but on the way, he meets an old school friend, and she helps him open up and rediscover that ease of communicating that he had lost along the way with his wife. In the meantime, Aiguo’s 39 year-old sister, Aixang, sells pizzas from a van and she is still single – many years ago, she too had tried to commit suicide after suffering heartache. She agrees to go out with Jiefeng, a middle-aged friend of Aiguo, who is divorced and works as a chef. The two end up married for fear of ending up alone and because they need someone to talk to. But their union is destined to fail, and in a short space of time, they also find themselves unable to communicate.
It seems as if all the characters in the film are locked into individual bell-jars, without the means to escape and move on; Jiefeng, the only character who seems to take life in his stride, has a genuinely caring and open relationship with Aiguo and Lina’s daughter. So it would seem that despite the discouraging portrayal of a society in which alienation and solitude reign supreme, the film wants to show us the light at the end of the tunnel, represented by the youngsters who have not yet been tainted by life’s travails: as one of the film’s characters says: “We need to live for the future, not the past.”

The film was released in China on Single’s Day, which has been held for several years now on the 11th November in celebration of the increasing number of single or divorced people, despite the traditional mentality that looks down with either pity or suspicion on the widespread social phenomenon.
Maria Barbieri
Film director: 
Liu Yulin
Year: 
2016
Running time: 
107

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