March 12, 2011
Notes from Rendez-vous with French Cinema 2011
Having been going through something of film burnout that began midway through the New York Film Festival last year, I had planned to attend only a few screenings from this year's Rendez-vous with French Cinema as a way of working through the inertia. The film that finally succeeded in coaxing me out of hibernation was Benoît Jacquot's latest offering, Deep in the Woods. Jacquot's films have in one way or another examined the nature of identity and performance, and his previous film at Rendez-vous, Villa Amalia had struck a personal chord about the compulsion for anonymity and renunciation. Suffice it to say, I had high expectations for Deep in the Woods and it did not disappoint.
During the Q&A, Jacquot commented that the real-life inspiration for the film was a fait divers that had set a precedence for mental manipulation as a legal basis for criminal responsibility under French law. Ostensibly the story of Joséphine (Isild Le Besco), a pious young woman who abandons her privileged life to follow a coarse, mesmeric drifter, Timothée (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) across the provincial countryside, the film explores the grey area between identity and role, will and compulsion. Especially intriguing is the way Jacquot ambiguously frames seduction as a kind of mental sleight of hand - a performance (and an apparently nefarious one) intended to override free will. By capturing the shifting dynamics between the captor and captive, Jacquot poses a fascinating paradigm in defining the ephemeral nature of desire.
The question of identity and performance also forms the core of René Féret's period piece, Mozart's Sister. Based on the life of Mozart's older sister, Nannerl (Marie Féret), whose own ambitions and future had been subjugated to promote the international reputation and career of the young prodigy, the film finds kinship with Jacques Rivette's La Religieuse in capturing the stricture, captivity, and marginalization of women in eighteenth century society.
Based on Keith Ridgway's first novel (albeit translated from rural Ireland to Belgium), Martin Provost's The Long Falling is a thoughtful and provocative interrogation on guilt, culpability, and redemption. Tracing the trajectory of a middle-aged woman's (Yolande Moreau) attempt to break away from her abusive husband and reconnect with her estranged son (Eric Godon), the film elegantly captures the deeply rooted dysfunctional cruelty, repression, and psychological enabling that forges the heroine's transformation. Weighing the mother and son's violent reactions against past transgressions, The Long Falling exposes the inhumanity of inaction and instinctual self-preservation that underlies the moral ambiguity of a seemingly justifiable murder.
The idea of defining one's identity while living under another person's shadow resurfaces in Eric Lartigau's The Big Picture. Based on the novel by Douglas Kennedy, the film chronicles the unraveling of a successful attorney (Romain Duris) after the collapse of his marriage. Striking the tone and tension of a Patricia Highsmith novel (as well as the moral ambiguity of the antihero), the film's attraction resides in Duris's subtly modulated performance in his ever-transforming persona as law partner, family man, fugitive, recluse, and photojournalist. Suggesting kinship with Jacquot's Villa Amalia in the narrative arc of an adrift protagonist traveling to a remote region in order to escape a life-altering trauma (this time, within the framework of a genre film), The Big Picture proves to be a competent, if unremarkable exploration of identity, fugue, and reinvention.
Ironically, the idea of constant reinvention also captures of Claude Lelouch's autoportrait, From One Film to Another. Admittedly, I had never been a great admirer of Lelouch's pastiche, uneven cinema. That said, Lelough's obviously deep love for the cinema and desire to continue to make each successive film unlike anything he had done before in the quixotic quest to make the perfect film made for an interesting biography. Opening with a jaw dropping archival footage of the young filmmaker racing through the streets of Paris by weaving his way through traffic, skidding through sharp turns, and barreling past red lights, Lelouch creates a metaphor for the kind of risk-taking, recklessness, and exhilaration that embody the spirit of his films. Having been figuratively born into the cinema with his parents meeting over Mark Sandrich's Top Hat - and subsequently hiding him from the Germans during occupied France by bringing him from one movie house to the next during the school day - Lelouch's unorthodox education has not only led him to embrace all forms of cinema, but also to try his hand at the different genres. Running the gamut from drama, to western, to romantic comedy, to musical, Lelouch's humorous and self-effacing survey of his film career reinforce the idiosyncrasy, audacity, and infectious enthusiasm that binds together his singular body of work.
October 17, 2010
The Strange Case of Angelica, 2010
The retrospective screening of Manoel de Oliveira's Acto da Primavera alongside his latest film, The Strange Case of Angelica provided a great opportunity to see the evolution - or rather, reconstitution - of his cinema from documentary to narrative fiction. Indeed, by evoking images from his first film, Douro, Faina Fluvial in Isaac's (Ricardo Trepa) desire to photograph the workers who still manually farm the valley, de Oliveira validates his continued preoccupation with film as a tensile medium for documentation, translation, and creation (the "in between-ness" described in the notes on Acto da Primavera). In hindsight, Isaac's fascination with their dying way of life proves to be an underlying symptom for his own dislocation and estrangement. Hired by a prominent family to take photographs of their daughter Angelica on the eve of her death, Isaac soon becomes haunted by her, leading him further into a state of suspension between reality and image, the physical and spiritual, life and death. Framed within this seemingly banal tale of obsession and longing, The Strange Case of Angelica, nevertheless, provides de Oliveira with a broad canvas to explore his recurring themes of doomed love, the relationship between image and reproduction, and cultural extinction.
Acto da Primavera, 1963
In Le Quattro volte, Michelangelo Frammartino uses the staging of the Passion Play by the local villagers to bridge the ancient and the modern. This dialectic also provides the connective tissue in the Views from the Avant-Garde program, Station to Station, capturing the ancient tale as it unfolds in the streets of New York City (Jeanne Liotta's Crosswalk) and the Portuguese countryside (Fern Silva's Servants of Mercy), and culminating in the restored print screening of Manoel de Oliveira's sublime early work, Acto da Primavera. Filmed in the ancient village of Curalha in Northern Portugal (the film was released a year before Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew) where the local residents have been staging this rite of spring since the 16th century, Acto da Primavera straddles the bounds between documentary and fiction, action and performance. Bookending the film with episodes that reinforce the contemporaneity of events against which the play is staged (a reading of a newspaper early in the film that comes full circle with the concluding images of modern warfare), de Oliveira explores the notion of "in between-ness" - from the quaint village that seems anachronistic in its competing landscape of medieval architecture and electrical power lines, to the idea of film as a literal and figurative medium and conjurer of images, to the hybridization of reality when it consciously plays out before a camera.
October 16, 2010
Le Quattro volte, 2010
The idea of permeable boundaries between life and death, reality and fiction also captures the spirit of Michelangelo Frammartino's distilled, yet richly textured fresco, Le Quattro Volte. Composed of four seasonal portraits that collectively present the cycle of life in the ancient village of Calabria, the film is something of a hybrid between Raymond Depardon's Profils paysans documentaries on the dying culture of rural farmers and Otar Iosseliani's pastoral comedies. By shifting narrative focus in each episode - an aging shepherd who cures his ailments with a nightly dose of holy dust obtained from the charwoman of the village church, a kid who sets out on his first graze and is separated from the herd, a tree that is cut down to be used as a maypole for the town festival, the construction of a coal-fired kiln to produce charcoal - Frammartino gives equal weight between the organic and inorganic to convey a sense of cosmic, eternal interconnectedness.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 2010
Like Mija in Lee Chang-dong's Poetry, the eponymous, ailing protagonist of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is similarly haunted by memory and mortality. Retiring to a secluded country estate to live out his final days in the company of concerned family and friends (as well as a devoted Laotian illegal immigrant [Sakda Kaewbuadee] who administers his dialysis), Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) is soon visited by ghosts from his past - his late wife, Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk) who had died decades earlier, and son, Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong) who had disappeared as a university student (alluding to the communist movement of the 1970s), and has now emerged from the jungle as a transmogrified monkey-man. Expounding on the themes of reincarnation, parallel lives, and eternal recursion explored in Syndromes and a Century, Apichatpong gorgeously conflates past and present, history, and subconscious into an indelible stream of consciousness, where the troublesome geopolitics of porous national borders serve as a mundane, yet poetic metaphor for the interpenetrating modes of reality that haunt our human struggle for legacy and meaning.
While Lee Chang-dong's Poetry has invited comparison to Bong Joon-ho's Mother in its tale of morality, filial devotion, and culpability in the absence of memory, its theme of capturing the ephemeral beauty in the quotidian and transforming it into something eternal suggests a closer association with Hirokazu Kore-eda's After Life. And like After Life, the film is stitched together by mundane interactions and memories both real and constructed (in this case, as told by students in Mija's (Yun Janghee) class struggling to find a source of inspiration for their poetry writing assignment). By interweaving fractured moments of grace and (implied) brutality, youth and old age, innocence and death (the opening image is of children playing in the river who subsequently discover a body floating in the river), Lee creates an understated metaphor, not only for the idea of preserving the poetry in everyday life, but also for the indomitable heroine's struggle to find beauty - and legacy - in the face of brutal reality.
September 10, 2010
Suspended Lives, Revenant Images. On Harun Farocki's Film Respite by Sylvie Lindeperg
Note: Suspended Lives, Revenant Images. On Harun Farocki's Film Respite was first published in Trafic, no. 70/2009 and is reprinted in Harun Farocki | Against What? Against Whom? edited by Antje Ehmann and Kodwo Eshun.
Harun Farocki's Respite is something of a ghost film, revisiting his exposition on the intersection between productivity and violence (as captured by the unseen reconnaissance photographs of Auschwitz) in Images of the World and the Inscription of War, and dissecting the nature of image production and its role in inscribing - and intrinsically, codifying - history. It is an attempt to connect the visible and the invisible that is also suggested in Sylvie Lindeperg's essay, Suspended Lives, Revenant Images. On Harun Farocki's Film Respite. To this end, Lindeperg describes Farocki's use of found footage and archival photographs as an "exhumation", suggesting the dual nature of these companion films (Respite consists of footage from the Westerbork transit camp) as a critique of history and filmmaking, both converging on the implication of images. Moreover, since the Westerbork footage exists as a set of unedited rushes rather than a completed work, Lindeperg reinforces this analogy by referring to Farocki's deconstruction in Respite as the figurative reassembly of a "phantom film".
Images of the World and the Inscription of War underlines the troubling proximity between acts of conservation and acts of destruction, the relationship between the violence of war and the technologies of recording and reconnaissance, the instability of meaning at work in the image ...[The film] therefore forcefully underlines the necessary "collusion of image and text in the writing of history." The knowledge constituted by eyewitness accounts permits us to decode elements hidden in the image, to recognize what was inscribed there, but neither interpreted nor even seen at the time it was recorded. The conjunction of seeing and knowing thus allows us to recover the unthought of the photograph at the moment of its making. This reading appears as the product of an encounter between historical knowledge, the regime of memory, the symbolic and social demands that condition the exhumation of photographs, the questions addressed to them, the ways of decoding them.
In introducing this parallel image of a ghost film that can be reconfigured to reveal malleable layers of reality and meaning, Lindeperg broaches on the idea of filmmaking as archaeology and an act of conjuring. However, rather than a treatise on the ambiguity of truth and fiction in the vein of José Luis Guerín's Tren de sombras, Lindeperg illustrates the intrinsic paradox of the wartime footage intended to capture (and preserve for history) the way of life of a people who were targeted for extermination:
Fritz Hippler recalls the instructions given to him by Goebbels while filming in Lodz in 1940: 'Film everything you see: the life and the crowds in the streets; the commerce and trade, the rituals in the synagogue, crime, none of this should be forgotten. It has to be captured in its original state.'
...These remarks attributed to Goebbels reveal, above all, the conjunction between the act of archiving and disappearance that prefigures the tragic encounter between putting-in-an-image and putting-to-death. From 1942, in fact, filming was continued and increased in the Polish ghettos. The Nazis filmed those that they were going to kill, documenting them because they were going to kill them.
It is this dichotomy that underscores the idea of cinema and image-making as the process of preservation and destruction, where memory is formed by the sequencing of images, each one supplanted by the next.
In Images of the World and the Inscription of War, Farocki juxtaposes photographs from diverse sources in order to decode the traces of the event inscribed in the pictures while simultaneously taking the measure of what is not immediately represented. In Respite, however, he starts with a single source in order to evoke memory-images. The sequences of Westerbork thus become palimpsest images, which summon to the surface other image-strata, which recall the memory and history of cinema. Accordingly, the black intertitle cards play the role of crystallizers of memory and facilitators of vision, while simultaneously providing a space for absent images.
In this respect, Respite not only proposes to refigure history, but also to resurrect the dead through reconstituted images, to form a more durable image-memory in their absence.
There is another meaning of the title Respite that refers to the notion of latency, to the passing and the work of time, the time that mirrors the forgotten scenes of life in the camp and that extends to the present. In this sense, the force of Farocki's film depends on the contextualization of these shots within the mechanisms of propaganda as well as the confidence he places in their autonomous power. Detached from the intentions of the film, the luminous faces of the persecuted appear before us as revenant images. This spectral effect allows an emotion to surge forth that assures the posthumous victory of these captive men, women and children placed in front of the camera at the whim of their jailor, since time can foil the designs of the conquerors, and the image, as Chris Marker observed, has the power to transform the dead into something eternal.
July 21, 2010
Nelson Pereira dos Santos by Darlene J. Sadlier
With Nelson Pereira dos Santos's body of work deeply rooted in an aesthetic as well as political and social consciousness, it is not surprising that Darlene J. Sadlier analyzes the trajectory of dos Santos's cinema through a similar paradigmatic approach of integrating film form with historical context. Brought up in a middle-class, cinephile household in a rapidly modernizing (and consequently, culturally vibrant) postwar São Paolo, dos Santos's involvement with the left movement in the 1940s was incited more by humanism - particularly, with respect to the socioeconomic disparity and underdevelopment of the sertão (northeast) region - than opposition to the authoritarian government of Getúlio Vargas. Despite working towards a law degree, dos Santos had spent his academic career pursuing filmmaking, traveling to Paris to embark on a makeshift film studies crash course (after a failed attempt to enroll at the renowned IDHEC [Institut des hautes études cinématographiques]), and taking on documentary projects commissioned by the Communist party. It was during these lean years working in cash-strapped productions that dos Santos, now living with his young family in a Rio suburb near the city's largest favela, conceived the idea for Rio, 100 Degrees - a film that confronted the unvarnished reality of life in the slums that, until then, had remained below the periphery of social discourse on everyday life in the city (even as the favela maintained a visible presence atop a hill):
In contrast to the aerial shots of the tourist sites, the camera takes a position low to the ground to photograph the favela from the base of the hill to the top. This angle enables dos Santos to give audiences a better sense of the size and steepness of the hill as well as the closeness and poverty of the wooden shacks, which lack even running water. We see a boy walking up the hill with a can of water on his head and several others making their way down narrow paths and onto the paved streets filled with marketplaces, cafés, and palm trees. These few shots make clear that the favela is quite close to the city; but life in the metropole is so much richer that it seems like another planet.
In the essay, Rio, Zona Norte, Mandacaru Vermelho, Boca de Ouro, and the beginning of the Cinema Novo Movement, Sadlier examines dos Santos's early, transitional films that, while entirely different in their scope (and levels of critical and commercial success), reveal recurring themes and methodologies that would resurface throughout his body of work: race and indigenous identity versus assimilated Western culture (Rio, Zona Norte), landlessness and migrant workers (Mandacaru Vermelho), and a translational approach to literary adaptation (Boca de Ouro). Also, by locating these films within the chronology of Cinema Novo, Sadlier makes a salient point on dos Santos's precedence with respect to the birth of the movement, correcting the common misconception that aligns his cinema squarely with the emergence of Glauber Rocha, Leon Hirszman, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Carlos Diegues, and Arnold Jabor under the rubric of Cinema Novo.
Sadlier expounds on Dos Santos's translational approach to adapting literature in her detailed analysis of Vidas secas. Based on the novel by Brazilian author Graciliano Ramos (whose autobiographical novel, Memories of Prison, would later be adapted by dos Santos in 1984), dos Santos not only took advantage of the novel's cyclical structure to rearrange the self-contained stories for dramatic effect, but also dispensed with much of the characters' philosophical inner monologues in order to retain a more visceral connection with the nature of poverty.
Between and within sections, characters' thoughts and moods often undergo swift, radical changes, revealing their curiosity about language and undermining certain stereotypical notions about "primitives" derived from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature. In fact, Ramos's novel is as much or more concerned with the "human and contradictory" language and consciousness of the retirante (peasant migrant) as it is with the brutal landowning system of the Northeast.
...Dos Santos's film dramatizes this scene in its entirety [an episode in which the oldest son struggles with his mother's explanation of the concept of inferno], but it somewhat downplays the boy's curiosity about the words and his desire to understand what he does not know, giving greater emphasis to the ironic relationship between the word 'hell' and the boy's immediate surroundings.
In Culture and Cannibalism: Como era gostoso o meu francês, Sadlier frames How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman within the context of cultural extermination as a result of the military government's attempts to bring "civilization" to the indigenous people as part of its national development campaign. By drawing on colonial history, the cannibalism serves as an allegory for the consumption of one culture by another - a phenomenon that speaks directly to Brazilian society's continued emulation of European culture long after the country's independence. (Note: The equation of cannibalism with cultural consumption also appears in Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's Macunaíma).
Sadlier further proposes an intriguing corollary that by filming from the perspective of the indigenous tribe, dos Santos is recreating a historical record that had been erased from "official" history through a process of what critic Raymond Williams describes as "selective tradition" in which culture is redefined by the prevailing attitudes of contemporary society (and that, by nature, reinforces these biases and aspirations).
Viewed in these terms, dos Santos's film is less interested in distorting a canonical text than in revealing what that text omits. Its documentary-like or "anthropological" style directly participates in an effort of reinterpretation by providing the viewer with a simulation of what has been lost, not just in time but also through the selective cultural process. Dos Santos's solidarity with the Tupinambá can therefore be described as an ideological position in powerful contrast with the interests and values of the dominant class in Brazil, which has always identified with Europeans, especially the French.
The collapse of populism in the 1960s also coincided with dos Santos's divergence from a purely leftist agenda towards a more humanist cinema, a transition that is reflected in the fabular dimension to Ogum's Amulet:
Although dos Santos had long been aware of religious practices in the favela, his approach in his earliest films was strictly Marxist, focusing on social class and race while implicitly dismissing religion as an opiate of the masses. O amuleto de Ogum makes clear not only the centrality of religion in the lives of the poor but also the ways in which umbanda reinforces class solidarity and gives a kind of power to individuals who are caught in a violent and corrupt world.
Stadlier also illustrates this ideological shift in her analysis of Memories of Prison and Cinema of Tears. In Memories of Prison, dos Santos creates early ambiguity on the identity of the author and main character, Graciliano Ramos, by placing him in the milieu of the general prison population, in essence, democratizing the attribution of "hero" to all the prisoners. In Cinema of Tears, dos Santos's Latin American contribution to the BFI's Century of Cinema project (on filmmaker searching for a lost film that connects him to a tragic episode from his past), he embraces the escapism of popular studio-produced films and their ability to connect with the audience.
The actor's search through the archive is also, of course, a fictional device that allows dos Santos to show brief clips, most of them in pristine condition, of wonderfully evocative black-and-white films of the studio era. By this means he pays tribute to a generation of directors, cinematographers, and stars who became internationally famous largely because of their work in melodramas. Although the content of these films had little to do with the social reality of the moviegoing public, the Mexican melodramas were among the highest-quality films made in Latin America. In effect, dos Santos who began his career as a neorealist and a symbol of the Latin American New Wave, takes a revisionary approach to a genre that, like the chanchada [musical comedies], was often criticized by the Left because of its association with Hollywood.
June 27, 2010
Short Notes from The Calm After the Storm: Making Sense of Lebanon's Civil War
Ready To Wear Imm Ali (Dima El-Horr) is a delightful, understated comedy that like Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention and Randa Chahal Sabag's The Kite, finds brittle humor in the absurdities of everyday life under a protracted occupation. Ostensibly chronicling an enterprising woman's efforts to launch a fashion boutique in a bucolic farming village and her malfunctioning neon sign, the film effectively conveys the climate of secrecy and distrust as ordinary people struggle to find some semblance of independence and self-determination in the face of uncertainty, transforming her confusion into a potent commentary on empowerment and solidarity.
While Falling from Earth (Chadi Zeneddine) suggests affinity with the films of Theo Angelopoulos in its intersection of personal and national history, the film finds greater kinship with Hector Faver's Memory of Water in its interweaving elements of documentary, fiction, and imagination. As in Faver's film, Falling from Earth is equally poetic and frustratingly heavy-handed in its elliptical and allusive tale of an aging, disconnected exile who parses through the rubble of his tormented past in an attempt to come to terms with his mortality and legacy.
Of the three short video works in the Akram Zaatari program, All Is Well at the Border proves to be the strongest entry, reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's Ici et ailleurs in its tale of two cities and the alienating, fragile peace of a status quo struggle for power and control. By presenting modern-day Lebanon as a collage of scarred streets, demolition, and reconstruction accompanied by the testimonies of former political prisoners during the occupation, Zaatari creates a potent allegory for the Palestinian conflict and a haunting survey of war's subtle, yet indelible imprint on physical and human landscapes.
The second offering in the Zaatari program, Red Chewing Gum is more experimental and abstract in its execution than the quasi-documentary, All Is Well at the Border, a spoken word rendering of two estranged childhood friends and the memory of an encounter with a chewing gum peddler. Punctuated by the repeated refrain, "no sugar left" as the peddler discards his used gum into a cardboard box, the film serves as a metaphor for the fracture and irreparable damage of the Lebanese civil war.
The least effective entry in the Zaatari program is Crazy for You, a survey of the mating ritual told from the perspective of working class men in modern day Lebanon. Colorful and forthright in its stories of romantic conquests, Zaatari treads a culturally taboo-breaking, if banal road in examining the country's decidedly mixed message towards modernity and socially progressive attitudes - a dichotomy that Zaatari wryly reinforces in a bawdy drinking song of machismo strength - one that can withstand the weight of a collapsing wall - shot against the rubble of a dilapidated house.
Part autobiography and part refiguration of turbulent history, Randa Chahal Sabag's Our Imprudent Wars, like Albert Solé's Bucharest, Memory Lost, is a clear-eyed and probing assessment of the personal toll of a family's lifelong activism and resistance. Born to intellectual, globe-trotting parents, Sabag would bear witness to the tumult resulting from her family's commitment to social engagement - first, in her parents' militant, left-leaning politics, then subsequently, in her older siblings' involvement with the militia during the Lebanese civil war. Struggling to reconstruct her family's ambiguous and ever-shifting circumstances during the war, Sabag presents an incisive analogy to the murky politics, inflexible ideology, and dubious alliances that led the protracted civil war itself.
The militancy of ordinary people during the civil war and occupation of southern Lebanon also provides the framework for Sabag's Souha Randa, a fascinating portrait of (then) recently liberated radicalized student turned communist revolutionary, Souha Bechara who, at the age of 21, was arrested after her failed assassination of provisional officer, General Antoine Lahad. Following Bechara as she readjusts to her former life - albeit this time, as a national hero - in a newly liberated southern Lebanon, the film interweaves historical footage with Souha's emotional visit to Khiam prison where she once languished and was repeatedly tortured. With the prison now transformed into a teaching museum commemorating the struggle, the contrasting images of Khiam (made all the more visceral by Bechara's account of her ordeal) creates an insightful juxtaposition - facilitating a constructive dialogue to a new generation in its acknowledgement of turbulent history and celebration of renewal.
April 17, 2010
Last Train Home, 2009
From the seemingly mundane (if logistically nightmarish) objective of documenting the annual mass exodus of migrant workers from industrial cities as they return home to their rural villages in time for the Chinese New Year, Lixin Fan poignantly captures the dissolution of family in the face of globalism, poverty, and disenfranchisement in Last Train Home. Shot from the perspective of factory workers Changhua and Sugin Zhang over the course of three years as they travel for their only trip home to Guangzhou in the Sichuan province for the year, the film understatedly reveals the toll that their absence has taken on the children they have left behind. For their adolescent son, the separation has led to a need for affirmation, trying to win his parents' approval by repeatedly rehashing his accomplishments in school (feeding off their constant nagging on the importance of a good education). For Qin, their strong willed teenaged daughter, her grandparents - now only her grandmother - are her true parents and are entitled to her deference, rejecting their attempts at discipline and authority. With Qin eager to assert her independence and leave the village to try her hand at factory work, the Zhangs' relatively benign drama of getting home each New Year holiday becomes a potent commentary on the broader cultural significance of rapid industrialization on traditional values of family, caring for elders, and providing a better life for the next generation. Rather than auguring the promise of a new year, the holiday becomes a paradoxical signpost for what has been irreparably lost in the pursuit of progress and economic relief. As Fan poetically remarks during the Q&A on the parents' enduring sacrifices and hardship for their family, "they burn their candles out so that their children's light could shine brightly."