Freitag, 29. August 2014

Venice Film Festival: 親愛的 (Dearest)

At 135 min, "親愛的 (Dearest)" is a bit too long, but the burden of its bulk is only rarely felt thanks to a rich and involving script succinctly brought to life by a prime acting ensemble.

Child kidnapping and how in its wake grieving parents sink ever deeper into all-encompassing despair belong to the most established of formulas for a familial tragedy. This fictional recounting of a true case from southern China doesn't reinvent the genre so much as does an especially good job capturing the many nuances of the conflicts set free under such extreme circumstances. The screenplay is not above resorting to the usual tricks and milks sentimentality a little too hard from time to time, particularly in the first half of the film. But starting from an intense, well-orchestrated group chase scene halfway through that showcases Hong Kong director 陳可辛 (Peter Ho-sun Chan)'s instinctual command of dramatic action sequences, the story takes a left turn and introduces a new chapter that asks truly hard questions with a moral edge. How do you prioritize something as pure and natural as a parent's love when blood ties, emotional bond and legal entitlement all get into the mix? Is anyone at fault for something as absolute and undeniable as a child's attachment? Indeed, the power of this screenplay is most keenly felt when it shows you that the most heartbreaking situations in life are often also the most blameless.

Elsewhere, it's highly satisfying to watch three of China's top actors, 黃渤 (Huang Bo), 郝蕾 (Hao Lei), 趙薇 (Zhao Wei), act the crap out of one another. Hao's performance is probably the more wooden of the three, not quite bringing the paralyzing sorrow of a bereaved mother completely across. But it only takes a few calm, piercing, wonderfully ambiguous glances from her in the latter parts of the film for you to see this woman's still got it. Huang is strong as the stricken turned obsessed father, selling his character's naked inner struggles with every wrinkle etched into his face. Zhao only appears in the second half of the film but has the most interesting role. Probably not glammed down enough from her movie star looks, she nonetheless nails the simpleminded drive of her character, hitting you hard in a couple of heart-wrenching scenes that could conceivably be her ticket to the Golden Horse winner's club already resided by her co-stars.

The broadly weepy film score is an obvious weakness and the inconclusive ending may be a problem to some. But overall this is solid old-school storytelling that actually has a worthy story to tell.

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