Produced by Chinese meta-realism master Jia Zhangke, this meditative quasi-doc follows actor-director Song Fang (of Hou Hsaio-hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon) on an overdue visit to her aging parents in Nanjing. Everyone “plays” themselves, and nothing much “happens,” but as Song shares meals and pensively chats with her kin, an entire family history emerges from the stories. It’s a resolutely gentle film, comprised largely of murmured conversations, in-between moments and episodes of grooming. But the tales the parents tell—of uncles and neighbors and grandparents long gone, of weathering chemotherapy and showering the sick while wearing a raincoat—are all of death and dying.
Only late in the film do we learn that Song’s quiet father is a doctor, and how intimately the couple is connected to the passage from mere old age to one’s final days. In fact, a third-act offscreen crisis—a friend in her forties is sliding away due to lung cancer—feels even more pulverizing thanks to the film’s calm demeanor and Mom’s stillness after receiving the call. Sweet and fiercely humane, Song’s layered family portrait is decidedly Buddhist: silent when it needs to be and steadfast about approaching inevitable tragedy with care and patience.
Follow Michael Atkinson on Twitter: AtkinsonZero
Cast and crew