Lou du Pontavice’s short film “The Watchman” (Le Veilleur) is having its French Premiere in the Vesoul International Film Festival for Asian Cinema. This Belgium production is largely in the Chinese language and the central relationship revolves around a father and his son. The hopelessness amidst the political and social situations fuels the crux of their internal conflicts.

The Watchman” is screening at Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema

The father from the aforementioned duo, Guangdong, becomes a warden at a music conservatory. The reason is not only about getting a source of income but rather his child, a 14-year-old, who loves playing the horn. This little kid passed an entrance exam to study the French horn there and his father’s position lets him look after the child day-to-day. He wants to keep an eye on him and his progress in the education.

Since their family home in Jinan has been razed to the ground, the walls of conservatory become their home. Guangdong, despite his tumultuous past, believes in this child getting a better social status with education. He patiently sits while his son practices the horn. His expressions convey the lack of knowledge or interest in any melody associated with it. But his eyes and mannerisms rather convey something much deeper – a father trying to get a skill fruitful for his son’s future. He is not much concerned about himself or how he’s perceived being a warden. The child and his betterment seem to be his sole purpose of living. 

There is this attitude in the film which is very specific to the people from Asian regions – contentment for the mundane and the sacrifice of today’s joys for a better tomorrow.  The short emphasizes that while juxtaposing the cramped spaces and extreme close-ups to the wider and freer areas of the conservatory. Several repetitive and prolonged shots are there to give a sense of void, perhaps an emotional one.  Thanks to the editing by Charlotte Bouché that finds just the right balance between the poignancy achieved by its cinematographer Victoire Bonin.

Besides that, “The Watchman” is a clever mix of actual conversations and spoken dialogues in voice-over which blend right enough to sense their interpersonal disconnect from one another. Again, this a tragedy that is very specific to the region – a parent working rigorously for ‘what could be’ than for ‘what is’. It is one that doesn’t leave out the other side of the argument – of the parents. Guangdong, as a soul nurturer, is highly evocative of the years he has seen. His side never feels hardened or loosely-constructed for the same reason.

And through all of this, “The Watchman” emerges as an emotional experience and a commendable effort to encapsulate a regional pathos.