An interesting take on some of the problems caused by the one child policy.
Wang Xiaoshuai’s latest garnered him a best director award at the Berlin film festival.The story centers around a divorced couple, both now remarried, who have a child that suffers from childhood leukemia and is in desperate need of a transplant — but with no siblings, there are no suitable donors. Thus, the parents are faced with the possibility of having to have another child to save the first.
The plot is a bit of a doozy, but what’s interesting is how director Wang lets this character-driven drama unfold. Even the characters often marvel at how strange the situation is that has befallen them, and Wang allows us ample time to dwell alone with the characters and their thoughts. This is a kind of generosity that most directors dispense with as unimportant. But this is a family drama and art film, and these things are important. We are given a lot of time alone with the characters; their faces, silences, pregnant pauses, and body language tell the story in a way that does justice to the cinema as a visual, photographic medium.
The question going in your mind throughout the whole film is “are they going really have another child together? And are they going to copulate in order to so?” Wang lets the tension of this question build through the entire film. The critical scene that answers that question comes almost at the end of the movie, but it’s well worth the wait. It’s one of the masterfully handled denouements we’ve seen in Chinese movies, or movies from any country, for a long time. The cinematography was better than average through most of film but gets turned up a notch for this last scene. It’s easy to make the cinematography stylish, but to make it work so seamlessly in tandem with the dramatic content of the scene requires some real skills. That said, many complained that the plot is a bit too obvious and melodramatic.
About the acting: we feel fortunate whenever there’s at least one person in a movie that can act well, much less all four lead actors. It’s easy to short shrift the so-called secondary characters when so much of the film centers around two people, but Wang manages to achieve a rare balance, with fine, nuanced performances by the new spouses of the ex-couple, making the film much more enjoyably complex than it would have been otherwise.
The reviews of the film have been varied. Southern Metropolis (南方都市报）: said there are plenty of reasons not to watch the big blockbusters and watch In Love We Trust. Sina.com has a whole page devoted to the film (in Chinese) where you can read some news and reviews. The reviews from the western media were a bit more critical: GreenCine calls the film a “disappointingly bland neither/nor.” and in that same article, has excerpts from other reviews where the film was called “maudlin,” “obvious,” “uneven,” that “fails to deliver.”
After reading reviews like this, we begin to second-guess our own judgment. Maybe the reviewers have seen so many better films at the festival that In Love paled in comparison, or maybe they just don’t like maudlin films. We thought it was a decent film. Sometimes we wonder if the maudlin dialogue sounds better in Chinese than it does in subtitiles. Sensibilities are different, across cultures and individuals. We’re not going to say this was the best movie ever, but it was every bit as enjoyable as anything else we’ve seen recently. Action films and epics are for entertainment, as are comedies. As far as art films go, we thought In Love We Trust was definitely much better than average.
A final note: the DVDs that we picked up had no subtitles whatsoever. The language is Mandarin.
Cross-posted at China Film Journal