China 2012. Dir: Song Fang, Scr: Song Fang
A 30-year old single woman returns to her ageing parents’ apartment in Nanjing, spending time catching up with them and other relatives. They are a close family, one connected by an unconditional love and respect. They do what close families do – talk, eat, laugh and reminisce together. They care for and help each other. And they worry about each other. “How long will you go on living alone?”, asks the mother. The daughter’s own worries go unsaid but she listens quietly as her parents and other relatives of their generation talk poignantly of loss and its aftermath, more frequent and familiar as they age. Physical and emotional intimacy underpins the film: it is shot almost entirely in the small apartment – the one scene outside the apartment is shot in the cabin of a car; we see the daughter tenderly plucking her mother’s eyebrows and cleaning her father’s ears, and; we see both parents and brother asleep, vulnerable. But this intimacy is not claustrophobic. The soundtrack (there is no music) opens the apartment up to the bustling to and fro outside and Song gives us time and space for contemplation: she keeps her camera fixed, characters don’t speak directly to the camera but form part of the composition – once or twice they talk off screen altogether, while she fixes on the layout of the room or a modest possession.
Song reminds us how time passes ominously quickly “Has it been ten years since he died?” and reflects gently on the cycle of life and death and related emotional action and reaction. Memories are critical in this. While heartbreaking at times, they connect the family and also, in some way, provide a base for philosophical acceptance. But we are also reminded of how the natural order can be broken, as when the parents’ friend “Old Li” is predeceased by his daughter. Song and her family, including her engaging niece, all play themselves – understated and real. It is a universal film, but also made all the more unique, powerful and moving by a woman’s sensibility. It is also very generous, leaving us with a feeling of comfort and warmth.