Eye For Film >> Movies >> Longing For The Rain (2013) Film Review
Longing For The Rain
Reviewed by: Michael Pattison
When it premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier this year, Longing For The Rain (Chunmeng) was listed as a Hong Kong production, even though its funding, setting and entire credits list belong to mainland China. This simple strategy, to protect the film against would-be censorship, says more about the problems facing Chinese artists today than it does the film itself – though as a strangely successful hybrid between erotic ghost story and social commentary, it’s one of this year’s more compelling features.
The fiction feature debut from 40-year-old documentarian Yang Lina tells the story of 30-year-old housewife Fang Lei (Zhao Siyuan), who spends her days shopping and dining out with her best pal (Xue Hong), visiting her dementia-suffering grandmother (Xu Guiqin), picking up her daughter (Xing Yifan) from school, providing dinner for her videogame-addicted businessman husband (Fu Jia) and, during vivid interludes, fantasising about the strange figure (Dej Pongpazroj) who seemingly visits her to satisfy unfulfilled sexual desires. Clearly, we are meant to view these latter, imagined episodes in compensatory terms: as its English title suggests, the film concerns itself with those basic emotional and physical desires that have to be internalised and/or are banished to the realms of fantasy by a pervasive and prohibitive patriarchy.
Rather than view the anxieties and ennui that might define life among Beijing’s nouveau riche with contempt, Yang is sensitive and original. Her central character’s burden is one of absence: just how does one complain about a life that is so ostensibly and officially privileged? If this premise sounds like the stuff of soap opera, though, it’s in its protagonist’s steady drift into neurotic paranoia where the film keeps its reserves of real sympathy. Without any kind of social and therefore familial support network, Lei’s cathartic hallucinations grow into things of dread, as she’s encouraged by her pal to visit shamanistic monks, triggering a series of self-doubts that culminate in Lei’s effective banishment from her own domestic space.
Yang’s vibrant, experimental direction and her excellent ensemble cast allow for a surprisingly seamless introduction of supernatural elements into the otherwise intimate, vérité-style fabric. At its centre, meanwhile, Zhao’s performance might fit equally under those intermittently popular adjectives – committed and brave – that seem to be dished out whenever a performer masturbates onscreen or partakes in close-up, shallow-focus sex scenes. Zhao offers a great deal more than that, though, as demonstrated in those tender scenes with her daughter and, especially, with her clumsily inept husband – whose clumsiness and ineptitude only add nuance to the film’s subtly dramatic register.Reviewed on: 11 Jun 2013