We continue on with the short films from the Odyssey Chinese Film Festival running from now until June 10th via https://www.odysseychinesecinema.uk/. Here are three of the An Exploration strand, expect many more from this strand over the coming days as we have been treated by the festival with some tremendous films!
Day is Done 下午过去了一半
Director: Dalei Zhang – 24 minutes
It’s still the same compound and family. My parents’ eye-tailed posture is a little more wrinkled, and little Ray, who never leaves his nunchucks, has grown up, still reticent. Nevertheless, life in the grandfather’s small courtyard stretches out calmly, and the daily minutiae flow between the family members.
Following on several years later from Summer is Gone (2016), we continue with Zhang’s personal take on families moving on with their lives. As he does so, he causes you to echo back to your own memories of visiting your older relatives; you remember the little things of the visits, and the small details of the house never really leave your memory. But, do you remember what happened during those times clearly? No, you remember items on a table or a little trinket.
Cinematographer Lyu Songye allows his camera to wander around as if capturing glimpses of these interactions and never really focussing fully on them. Using a relaxed observational style, we witness the family mourn the loss of one of their own. We have a continual sense of melancholy present within the family. That almost romantic look back at a simpler time is tinged with the pain of even for a few months losing a loved one.
That feeling of familiarity and heartache is omnipresent; we want to see the family around eating that watermelon together, being jovial and having the time we wish everyone has. Yet Zhang is never in a hurry to get there. Indeed we get a prolonged car journey discussing not much at all. However you enjoy it, you settle in and relax. Twenty-four minutes fly by and leave you thinking back to your own childhood, and for that, you can only thank Zhang – a wonderful short.
200 Cigarettes From Now 夏日美滋滋
Director: Tianyu Ma – 45 minutes
In the summer of 2019, Xia suddenly had a crush on someone who then seemed to have vanished from the world. He told Xia that he went to school in Boston.
For 45 minutes, we weave our way through Xia’s summer in Boston and find that there isn’t really any structure to 200 Cigarettes From Now. Time moves on without letting us know the exact timeline. Instead, we witness little details of Xia’s life. Instead of anchoring the film, characters come and go from her life, giving her little tidbits here and there to grow from.
Hua Zhong is perfectly cast as the pixie dream girl who has so much still to figure out. Sure she has a writing job that she can do from anywhere in the world, but she is still stuck in finding the connection of a specific someone and cannot appear to get him out of her mind, no matter how much alcohol or cigarettes she consumes.
She is fixated on the summer, a specific one and never wants it to end. After all, summer is the season when you are young, where time stands perfectly still. So why wouldn’t you want it to continue?
So Tianyu Ma gives us a claustrophobic film; until the final scene, we feel continually closed in with Xia and Jie. Their apartment is a cluttered mess with bottles and junk spilt around to help fill the void that both need fulfilling. What hits you, though, is how much you relate to it. Most of us have had a summer where we never wanted it to end, where we had goals and aspirations but never came close to reaching them and, most importantly, never thought we would.
So you drift, for the most part, 200 Cigarettes From Now does the same. A great looking film has you almost contemplative about your own young adult self. We are left with a film that piques your interest for more from the filmmaker.
All the Crows in the World 天下乌鸦
Director Yi Tang – 14 minutes
An 18-year-old schoolgirl is invited to attend a mysterious dinner party that is full of greasy middle-aged men. But there is also a different man named Jianguo who will lead a new journey for the girl. What will happen to her?
I will be brutally honest here with All The Crows In The World, I am not quite sure what I was watching, but all I know is that I couldn’t stop. There is a charm to the film that just grabs you, be it the opening where the two girls stop the clock count people’s experiences at a brothel or a wonderfully unexpected dance scene later on.
However, there is an unsettling tone present through All The Crows in the World that never shakes you and purposely so from Yi Tang. We should not feel comfortable about what is happening with Shengnan at any point when she reaches her cousin’s venue. Even with a large number of comedy moments filling out the screen, you are never sure which way the film is going to land. Is the foot going to drop on Shengnan and us? Or will it become what we want and need it to be?
By towing that line so well, Yi Tang is able to have fun with her film and give us an insight that we may not expect nor want to know about. Yet here it is, and when the film brings the fun and unexpected, it works like magic—a real surprise of a short.
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