Saturday, December 21, 2019

Only Cloud Knows

Okay, fine. I'll visit New Zealand. I never expected that it would be a Chinese film that convinces me to do so, but director Feng Xiaogang and cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding really shoot the heck out of it, and I've got vacation time that had to be used in months when I'd rather be in the southern hemisphere anyway. It looks really delightful and apparently isn't constantly on fire the way Australia is.

Zhi You Yun Zhi Dao (Only Cloud Knows)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 December 2019 in AMC Boston Common #1 (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Only Cloud Knows is a nice collection of anecdotes taken fairly directly from the life of screenwriter Zhang Ling, albeit with the time frame moved forward and the activity transplanted from Canada to New Zealand, and it says something about how our lives are not necessarily like the movies in that it is almost all about things that happened to him and his wife rather than things they did. That is not, in any sense, negative, but it's something you can't help but notice as the film goes on and the filmmakers try to arrange the film into a story rather than just things that happened.

Zhang's stand-in here is "Simon" Sui Songfeng (Huang Xuan), who grew up in Beijing but has been living in New Zealand for twenty years or so. His wife "Jennifer" Luo Yun (Yang Caiyu) has recently passed away, and his first stop with her ashes is a town on the South Island by the name of Clyde, where he'll meet up with Melinda (Lydia Peckham), the first employee at the restaurant that the couple ran for over a decade and one of their best friends in the country, while reminiscing about their life in that place and the path led there.

It's not a complicated path; Melinda shows up and talks herself into a job, and it's not long before a boy walks up to the restaurant with a very good dog that he can't keep because his mother is allergic. These things happen sometimes, of course, and it's likely as not that they happened to Zhang in this way, but at a certain point you can't help but notice that relatively little of what Songfeng and Yun do seems to be primarily of their own initiative, and it's sort of odd when you stop and think about it. There's no time spent on the big decision to move from Beijing to Auckland, and their marriage and move to take over a restaurant in Clyde is down to a game of chance. Yun talks occasionally about wishing they could live life like Melinda, whose stints as a waitress come between international volunteer excursions, and by the time the film finishes, one sort of wonders why they never do, given what the audience is eventually told.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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