Fiction Features Competition: The Last Painting, King of Peking, Crested Ibis
The Last Painting, a Taiwanese film that has competed in the International Film Festival Rotterdam, was selected with a high number of votes for the Fiction Features Competition. The film is confident, bold, and fearless. Through the death of a female college student, the film reflects on the contemporary Taiwanese social climate, examining the social issues surrounding events in recent Taiwanese memory: the Sunflower Student Movement; defunct factory workers’ protests; the Chou Tzu-yu flag controversy; the Xi-Ma Meeting; and the presidential election. With its refreshing visuals, The Last Painting’s otherwise heavy themes are overlaid with a fantastical element, lending a sense of surrealism to this story of a youthful death.
King of Peking combines both Eastern and Western points of view, and is one of the few films in this year's competition to feature comedic elements. The film’s director is Sam Voutas, who was born in Australia and grew up in China. King of Peking exudes 80’s and 90’s nostalgia; with extremely dynamic cinematography, editing, performances, it also features tight pacing and a unique perspective. Director Voutas constructs a fairytale-like world where the realism of details becomes unimportant, and effectively captures a father and his son’s most beautiful dreams about cinema.
Crested Ibis, the winner of the Golden George Prize for best film at the Moscow International Film Festival, was also selected to be a part of the Fiction Features Competition. In the film, the reunion of childhood companions reveals the difficulties of rural life, and provides a stark contrast between the mindsets and morals of urban intellectuals and villagers. As the saying goes, “get rich or die trying.” The rural practice of moving to the big city to find work is more common than ever, but flocking to urban areas can no longer guarantee one’s success. The compromise reached at the end of the film, while perhaps overly optimistic, does not overshadow the film’s unique sense of quietude. A detail worth noting is the film’s flashbacks of a teacher who had passed away; with the use of sequences that are surreal yet simple and clean, the film’s treatment of the flashbacks is filled with personality and enhances the overall impact of the story.
Non-Fiction Features Competition: China’s Van Goghs, Papa Rainbow, Mrs. Lei, Of Shadow
The festival’s Non-Fiction Features Competition is designed to include documentary, experimental, and animated features. This year’s selection features four documentary feature films.
China’s Van Goghs was an Official Selection of the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA). The film not only highlights the life of painters working under the shadow of the “Made In China” label, but also illuminates the disparity between “manufacturing” and “creating,” as well as that between “the artisan” and “the artist.” Does one live to live, or does one live for what the soul desires? The distance from Dafen to Amsterdam cannot be merely measured on a map—it is at once out of reach, at one’s fingertips, and thousands of miles away. China’s Van Goghs portrays all the bliss, absurdity, and inevitable harshness of reality vividly and with beautiful cadence.
Papa Rainbow, directed by Popo Fan, exemplifies the state of the LGBTQ community in China. Following the exploration of the mothers of LGBTQ children in his film Mama Rainbow, Director Fan switches his subject to the fathers’ perspective. In a traditional patriarchal society, men are extremely cautious of the societal impact of their behaviors. This is why a father may be reluctant to face an audience even if he understands his child’s sexual orientation. As a film in which fathers of LGBTQ children can share their stories freely and with honesty, Papa Rainbow is a rare gem. The fact that one of these fathers is gay himself further adds the topic of LGBTQ partners into the discussion. Not only is the LGBTQ community a minority group in a traditional society, LGBTQ partners also suffer further victimization.
Mrs. Lei sparked a two-hour long discussion between the festival’s senior programmers, whose reactions to the film were extremely polarized. The film is extremely intimate, with Director Kailuo Zhou pointing the lens toward his grandmother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, documenting the last days of her life in a very straightforward manner that is perhaps even a bit cruel. This directness proves to be challenging for the audience to handle. Yet all the programmers agree that Mrs. Lei is, without a doubt, a powerful film. The film is especially impactful in the way that grandmother and grandson are able to communicate—silently, yet sincerely and tenderly—using the camera as a vehicle. At the end of the film, after the passing of Mrs. Lei, the grandson is finally able to let his emotions pour out. The audience comes to realize the courage and endurance that he possesses in order to remain calm as he documents his beloved grandmother’s final moments.
Director Yi Cui’s Of Shadow screened at both the Toronto International Film Festival and the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Setting Of Shadow apart from the three other selected films is its use of an observer’s point of view. This unique perspective reveals an unknown world to the audience: those in the city who dress up and sing praises of fantasies are actors, while those who sing and roam the mountains alone are the true poets. Under the director’s frank yet meticulous orchestration, the shadow puppet performers who are facing the challenges of the changing times are able to confirm for us one simple truth: that art is freedom, and art is life. With neither fear nor worry, despite tough realities, poetic romanticism abounds in Of Shadow.