This movie shares most of the merits and flaws of Diao Yi'Nan's Black Coal, Thin Ice: visually gorgeous, with a sage rendering of sounds and spaces (particularly the distance between the characters feels like an abyss). On the other side a script that makes you crave for more depth and consistency. Just find this dude the right co-writer and he'll make wonders.
the cruelty comes naturally. the madness is silent and orderly. it doesn´t come with swings on the roofs and burning musicians, it´s like it´s always been there. and no one is surprised. it´s accepted and incorporated in life. and their relation is not as subtle as it would be if mikio naruse would film it (but, again, nothing is) but it doesn´t make it feel over-the-top, even tho it is. and the scene in the
Wen Zi soundtrack is nice and the shot composition is amazing. You cannot film the interior loneliness of a person so instead we have multiple exterior perspectives of Wu as she moves through her existence. Hypnotic nostalgia reminiscent of early Terrence Malick. This one struck me as both peaceful and sad. Standing at the rowboat he says to her "Come on aboard."
I saw "Black Coal, Thin Ice" at the SF Film Festival last year and loved it, so I was excited to watch another Diao film. The key elements of what made "Black Coal" interesting and successful are still evident -- grim landscapes of industrial China, beautiful cinematography, and a slick noir aesthetic. The story doesn't get interesting until about an hour in, but once it does, hold on.
Diao Yinan presents a bleak, painful vision of life in provincial China. Relationships here are marred by a detached cruelty elicited by the film's lifeless, icy environments. Does life's soul crushing day-to-day sameness render human connection impossible? Can one ever escape the utter brutality of existence?