If you enjoy films that seduce your mind into artful plays of realities, times, and ideas, “My Dear Friend” by Yang Pingdao, screening at the 2nd Mulan International Film Festival, is a bold directorial debut you do not want to miss.
“[…] how it would be nice if, for every sea waiting for us, there would be a river, for us. And someone -a father, a lover, someone- able to take us by the hand and find that river -imagine it, invent it- and put us on its stream, with the lightness of one only word, goodbye. This, really, would be wonderful.” Alessandro Baricco, Ocean Sea
Young woman Jing Jing (Gabby So) arrives in a remote south-Chinese village and looks for Yiming (…), father of her not yet born child. Whom she finds instead are his grandparents A Fang (Jiang Hong) and Shuimu (Robert Loh). While the news of a new life is more than welcome, Jing Jing learns of Yiming`s family men and their tendency to run away. All changes when Shuimu asks Jing Jing for a favor – to take him and his friend Zhongshen (Lu Haoquan) to the latter`s home village some 300 km away. Zhongshen feels the death nearing on him and wishes to come to peace with his ancestors, his past. And so the unlikely trio loads Jing Jing`s car and sets off.
This is also the turning point of basically everything you could have expected of the direction the story could take. This is also the point when the dialogues about constellations, patterns, repetitions, karma, life, death, feng shui start to make sense. The story that started with the prospect of a new life, the suggested clash of cultures, lifestyles, and generation gap refocuses onto the walk through the whole life cycle and beyond. A gritty indie film storyline of men who run away and die, and of women who learn to cope with it and harden in the process dissolves into a surreal fable uncovering the serene, breathtaking beauty of the southern rural landscapes. As in some poetic sci-fi, time, space, and logic melt down into a realm over and in-between time and space where we are together and very alone, so close and so far.
The coarseness of the Chinese south with all its mud, fog, and streams stuns with the photography of Long Miaoyuan that reinforces the flow of the narrative and its game. Recalling the European masters in the choice of shots and compositions in the film`s opening scenes, it finds its own ways of capturing the dive into the dreamy, limbo-like landscapes, water, mists, and moods. The seclusion and experience of timelessness are further evoked by scarce yet resonant score by experimental musician Dickson Dee, as well as thanks to the mostly seamless, occasionally abrupt editing of Lin Xudong.
“My Dear Friend” is a bold and determined directorial debut. Playful in the storytelling, playful in its style, playful in its take on the Chinese independent film as such. Strong in its artistic aspects. It is so worthwhile to let it play your senses, your mind, and your emotions, to lure you into unexpected, into old believes and rituals.