Montag, 8. September 2014

Venice Film Festival: 黃金時代 (The Golden Era)

Hong Kong filmmaker 許鞍華 (Ann Hui)'s "黃金時代 (The Golden Era)" is a visually sumptuous, directorially superior but substantially anemic biopic about early 20th century Chinese author 蕭紅(Xiao Hong). It looks stunning and unfolds in an unconventionally elaborate way. But with a running time of 3 hours, no amout of cosmetic, however smashingly beautiful or inventively applied, can disguise the fact that there's just not that much of a story to tell.

Relying heavily on in-camera self-narration, all major characters in the film address at some point the audience directly, either to introduce themselves or to provide the next clue about Xiao's life. Compounded by some tricky editing which scrambles the chronology of the account liberally, a piecemeal, eclectic picture of someone emerges, like a mosaic viewed from constantly shifting perspectives. It's a bold method that takes you off guard and, at least in theory, could best recreate the multifaceted quality of any personal history. The surprise wears off, though, as these testimonials pile up without corresponding pay-off and the formal experimentalism starts to feel more like a stunt than an altogether meaningful decision. Particularly detrimental is how, through this semi-theatrical approach, the movie attains a loosely episodic nature that further undermines character establishment, which is paltrily done in the writing department to begin with.

Reading like an accumulation of trivia, the screenplay details the many stations Xiao has travelled through in her short life and inserts quotes from her work at regular intervals apparently to mirror the internal changes she experiences. The problem is the tidbits gathered here are not really conducive to providing insights into the protagonist's psyche, they're not even always interesting. By soberly reciting the various challenges she's faced growing up and her encounters with other renowned writers of the time, it's often tediously factual, uninvolving. A significant part of the story, for example, is tangled up in the relationship between her and 蕭軍 (Xiao Jun), a seemingly on-and-off affair somewhat confusingly relayed through the aforementioned editing. By the end of which we're no closer to seeing this young woman or understanding her choices. The performance by lead actress 湯唯 (Tang Wei) also fails to make us relate, even if it's technically sound. Above all there's a lack of unpredictability and range that made her breakout star turn in "色,戒 (Lust, Caution)" so eye-opening and cut so close. As played by her, Xiao remains an elusive if soulful figure not necessarily worth discovering. Adequate but in no way revelatory, 馮紹峰 (Shaofeng Feng)'s performance as the man of her life is equally underwhelming. Within the large supporting cast, 郝蕾 (Hao Lei) probably fares best, bringing a spark of energy to an otherwise rather mute ensemble.

This is by no means a bad film, though, looking as exquisite as it does. Especially in its first half, literally every frame is a tableau, gorgeously designed, lit, and photographed. Fogged windows, smoky bistros and dilapidated walls fill up a screen that's permanently doused in the most atmospheric colors, be it the deepest of amber or the faintest of azure. Poetic around every corner, you can tell there's not a single accident in the picture's aesthetic realization. And as fussy as the film ends up being, there's no denying it's a graceful person sitting behind the camera overlooking this whole luminously cultured but superfluous enterprise.

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