VIFF 2013: Bends

Part of my on-going coverage of VIFF 2013. Here is an index.

Veteran Hong Kong actress Carina Lau in a starring role (she’s outstanding in supporting performances in movie like Days of Being Wild or He’s a Woman She’s a Man) was the main reason I chose to see this film, and on that front at least, it did not disappoint. In an otherwise solidly unspectacular film, Lau gives a queitly nuanced performance, full of humor, cheer and creeping anxiety. She plays a wealthy housewife, charity events, expensive feng shui consultations, the works (she also wears what is easily the chunkiest necklace I have ever seen). Lucille Bluth without all the evil. Her husband appears to be a financier of some type, he seems to engage in some shading dealings near the beginning of the film. But suddenly, Lau’s credit cards no longer work and her world begins to slowly crumble. No explanation is given for these events: piece by piece her things are simply taken away from her. The husband has disappeared and won’t answer her phone calls, but he does put their luxurious home up for sale. Lau’s daughter won’t answer her calls either, though that is unrelated: she will call once her money supply dries up.

The story is given an Upstairs/Downstairs dynamic with the adventures of Lau’s chauffeur, Fai, played by Chen Kun. He’s a Hong Kong citizen, but his wife is a mainlander and they live just across the border in Shenzhen. The border is seen multiple times throughout the film, and is given a helpful title at the beginning. It’s seen both as a winding river and a curved road, a thing to cross and the means of crossing it, both of which “bend”. Fai’s wife is pregnant with their second child, and they can’t afford the fine for violating the one-child policy if she gives birth in China, or the cost of a bribe to get his wife a stay in a Hong Kong maternity ward. The bulk of the film is made up of Fai’s various attempts to call in favors or raise money (notably selling off parts of Lau’s Mercedes without her noticing, another piecemeal dismantling of her wealth)*, while hiding his wife and calling on neighbors to help watch over their daughter.

As melodrama, the film is calm and understated, and first-time feature director Flora Lau shows an assured and almost too-tasteful hand, ably assisted by superstar DP Christopher Doyle’s crisp and bright images. As a tale of a borderland, the film is not without interest: the shimmer of Hong Kong, capitalism and wealth standing as a beacon to the Mainland, while itself precariously perched on quicksand, ready to dissolve into nothingness at any moment. In a repeated visual motif, Carina Lau places various objets d’art on a low table in front of one of the windows of her apartment, obscuring her view of a tall, green, solid mountain, a blocking out of reality with things. In the end, faced with an actual crisis, she does the right thing.

*”Mercedes-Benz” = “Mercedes-Bends” I just got that.

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