Dir. Lu Yue. China 2006. 84 min.
Potentiallya powerful soporific for any audience not fluent in Mandarin, Lu Yue's combination of documentary and improvised live action is almost self-defeating in its insistence to stick, for the first hour, to a purely theoretical seminar. As it is, Lu's picture could interest scholars of Chinese poetry, or patient Westerners that do not mind extensive subtitles and are willing to bide their time until the academic analyses are over and room is made for their practical appliance. Beyond campuses and colleges, there are very limited chances for such a film to travel outside its own territory, and even there, it risks drawing the attention of only the rarefied few.
Lu, who is still best known as a cinematographer for Zhang Yimou's To Live, despite already having directed several features in his own right, dedicates almost the entire first hour to a straightforward rendition of a meeting between a dozen Chinese poets for a conference on the nature, the essence and the future of poetry in their language.
Sitting around the table and facing microphones, each one of them offers his opinions in medium close-ups, explaining why poetry is image while song is feeling, how close poetry is to melancholy, and the difference in approach between the temporal West which recognize a beginning and an end to everything, and the Chinese tradition which holds that time is immemorial, with no starting point, no finishing line and no Judgment Day.
They go on to discuss the personal sensibilities needed to create poetry, the role of poetry in contemporary society, the conflict it has with pure reason, its emergence out of various degrees of misery, its need to go out on a limb at the risk of being considered decadent and the difference between masculine and feminine verses.
While these theories are being discussed in detail, the woman who organizes the seminar sits in a corner, supervises the proceedings and is always ready to provide drinks.
Half an hour goes by, when suddenly she spies an old acquaintance conducting a business meeting with a couple of strangers in the hotel's lobby. They talk and decide to meet again later. The camera then goes back to spend another half hour with the seminar.
Just as the woman is packing ready to return home, the man comes back. The two hesitantly engage in conversation, then go out to tour the city and finally come to her room. The outcome is left open and the camera turns back to the poets and asks each one in his in turn, what they think is the future of the relationship.
Evidently the idea was to confront theory with practice, poetry and real life.
Wang Zhiwen and Wang Tong, the two actors (all the rest are real poets), were asked to improvise the encounter between a man who was once a teacher and is now a sales agent for printing machines, and his former student, who he has not seen for 6 years, but with whom he obviously had an affair at some time.
They both acquit themselves remarkably well, and a written script would not have been more effective.
Those who are undaunted by the scholarly first two-thirds of the film and stay the course may discover at the very end that poets are not necessarily as romantically inclined as some people tend to believe.
MK 47 (Ch)
MK 47 (Ch)