Dir. Ma Liwen. China. 2005.85mins.
You And Me
Opening the Kinderfilmfest Plus 14 section at theBerlinale, it seemed to play well enough to its targetaudience, young teens and their parents, presumably looking for wholesomeentertainment. But there's little here to interest more discriminating art-filmviewers who form the bulk of the audience for non-genre Chinese-language films inthe western world.
Structured by a predictable seasonalprogression - replete with the mandatory intertitles trottedout at regular intervals - the film begins in winter and ends the following yearfour seasons later.
The central focus - virtuallythe only focus - is on Xiao Ma (Gong Zhe), an impoverishedyoung female student and the crotchety, miserly grandmother (Jin Yaqin) she wants to rent a room from.
Not surprisingly, the room ispathetically inadequate, but the industrious Xiao Ma, whose stubborn resistancewill remind some of the 13-year-old village teacher in Zhang Yimou's far better NotOne Less, sets about getting everything ship-shape.
The actresses are spirited andplay well off each other, but even the greatest talent could not keep viewers rivetedby the constant, unvarying psychological warfare of this twosome imprisoned in sucha tiny, never-changing location. Xiao Ma's perky can-do spirit also quickly wearsthin, though the occasional static shot meant to be brooding remains merely static.
Another problem is that the scriptgives the leads little do beyond arguing about money for the film's first, verylong hour. Worse yet, the unending but repetitive verbal sparring forces viewersto stay glued to the subtitles, even further alienating them from the drama.
Few nuances in their contestedrelationship ever appear. The screenplay is reduced to Xiao Ma's facial muggingat one point and "comically" out-of-place T-shirts on toothless oldsters at anotherto evoke some laughs, in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to keep the viewer'sattention.
Sometime during "Fall," the warriors begin to interact more humanely, but there'slittle dramatic motivation provided for this sudden change. When the ending thatany sentient viewer will have seen coming even as early as the opening credits actuallyoccurs, it's severely understated and quite powerful.
It's a shame that such a completeturnabout doesn't ring true, however, because the viewer was never properly positionedto appreciate it. The sudden appearance of mobile phones and skyscrapers at thevery end also hints that larger themes about modernisation were intended, but thosetoo have gone unrealised.
The Fourth Production Company
China Film Group
Feima Southwest Movie & TV Art Development CentreOf Sichuan
China Film Group