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The story is set in the 1970s in a small town in China. A middle aged couple has three children. The eldest son is obese and mentally challenged, therefore he is teased and outcasted by others. The second child is an outgoing and energetic daughter, who is not afraid of doing anything to pursue her dreams or to survive. The youngest child is a shy and quiet boy who is ashamed by his older brother and tries to break away from the misery in his family. Breaking into three sections focusing on each of these siblings, the film allows us to look into the lives of ordinary Chinese people the 70s. Written by
A gorgeous family epic that makes the audience positively review life around us
When accomplished cinematographers take to direction, they often make superb films (William Fraker's "Monte Walsh", Nicholas Roeg's "Don't Look Now" and Govind Nihalani's "Aakrosh") that are often accepted as great movies much later. In the case of cinematographer-turned-director Changwei Gu, to be awarded a Silver Bear for his debut as director must have been nothing short of a dream start into a new career.
Interestingly director Gu, opted to entrust the camera to Shu Yang and not do the job the world knew him to be accomplished at. Director Gu, however, opts to act as a lonely, blind accordion player who commits suicide.
I am not Chinese but this film had me enraptured from start to finish. The film had superb music by Peng Dou (courtesy Chinese National Symphony Orchestra), enchanting photography, incredible performances and a multi-layered story of a close-knit five member family with family values best appreciated in Asian communities. Though the film is set in the late Seventies in the years following the Cultural Revolution, the film is almost devoid of direct political comments.
The film is a common man's epic. The film is a 144 minute film (originally 4 hours) that was easily the most rewarding film at the just concluded Dubai Film Festival. It is a tale of a 5 member family told in three segments by the three children: a daughter who causes trouble for the family but emerges from an ugly duckling into a mature and cynical swan; an elder son who is mentally challenged, physically bloated, but pure in heart; and a younger son, loving, sensitive and occasionally worldly wise. The three perspectives of the family are punctuated by a cardinal shot of the family eating a simple meal. Like Kurosawa's "Rashomon," the three versions offering different perspectives of the family provide cinematic entertainment that is demanding of the viewer.
The first segment of the story from the view of the girl is richer than the other two, primarily due to the rich musical subplot of her interactions with the blind musician (played by the director). The segment offers fodder for the impressionable dreamer in all of us: the power and the glory associated with a parachutist soldier, the importance of getting married to a loving husband, and the importance of playing music very well as an escape route from the daily social drudgery of washing bottles.
The second segment told from the perspective of the mentally challenged brother looks at society and predictable collective reactions to simple incidents that are not based on reason or analysis.
The third segment told from the practical younger brother's view takes another perspective--the best way to survive in an evolving society that is neither one of a dreamer or one of submission to mass reaction.
The film ends with three families of the sister and two brothers passing a peacock in a zoo. They state the peacock never dances in the winter. As they move on, the peacock does dance. The beauty of life is best perceived as you move away from the incidents and look at it from a distance, dispassionately. Melodrama takes a back seat. In the forefront, the director presents a philosophical, positive view of life--not in the least limited to the geographical boundaries of China.
I wish more people get to see this gorgeous family epic from China. It is one of the finest films of the decade.
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