YELLOW IS FORBIDDEN is a modern day Cinderella story where the brave, diminutive and daring heroine's dream doesn't end at the ball - China's Guo Pei is chasing every designer's fantasy - to become part of the exclusive yet savage world of Haute Couture. Set within the new China, YELLOW IS FORBIDDEN is a feature documentary encompassing contemporary global power dynamics and the opposition between art and commerce, looking back at the history of couture all wrapped around the beauty of fashion.Written by
Part tone-poem, part documentary, this film sweepingly captures the anima behind the designer's couture work, rather than the minutiae of its creation, although you get a view of that as well. We are introduced to a creator who is at times petulant and child-like, yet also portrayed as being charged with passion & emotional sensitivity. I see that, in her synopsis, the director has described Guo as 'brave', but the designer is also shown as vulnerable and insecure, with a sizable dose of materialistic hauteur.
In keeping with China's capitalist transformation, her work is naturally preoccupied with signs of wealth and status (and the specter of aristocracy/nobility). It is fascinating to watch her recruit clientele for her 'club' of VIP and VVIP customers by flattering their egos and leveraging their fears of being 'less than' (especially, less than their Western counterparts). The ultimate is to be seen as queenly. In the case of her couture work, this could perhaps mean being burdened under a garment weighing as much as 50kg (said to symbolize responsibility) while walking precariously on elevated footwear.
The production process is presented as both workman-like (300+ overworked embroiderers; periods of up to two and a half years for a single piece) and mysterious (an intriguing sequence that might have been biofeedback training in Switzerland). We see her sketching and selecting materials, but her role in the whole process almost seems to occur at a slight remove.
Are these efforts and opulent creations *sublime* or *ridiculous*? With its hands-off storytelling, the film does not appear to argue for one or the other, but surely you can't help feeling that there are elements of both. Besides the film's detached, intelligent, and impressionistic presentation, the fantastic music and visual poetry make this a captivating view.
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