Red Amnesia


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Red Amnesia
"Wang's China is a place where nothing is quite as it seems, or as habit and tradition say it should be."

Why is it that when women reach a certain age we immediately start to see them as harmless, and to adopt the belief that they must have been harmless all their lives? It's a phenomenon that exists in many cultures, the archetype of the sweet little old lady, no longer an active participant in the world. Is annoying her children the worst crime of which she's capable? Or could she be harbouring a secret with terrible consequences?

Deng Meijuan (Lü Zhong) is a quiet woman living alone in the house where she raised her children. She helps out in a local rest home, feeding those no longer able to do basic things for themselves. She visits her sons, still insisting on cooking for them on a daily basis, collecting her grandson from school even though his mother doesn't like it. Then one day she receives a phone call. She asks who's calling, but no-one answers. Immediately, she's worried. Most of us might write off a single call as a probable wrong number; perhaps it's just because she lives alone that Deng sees it differently, but even before further calls start she's thinking about what to do. The situation escalates. Her older son asks her to move in with him; the younger one offers to move in with her. She won't have it. Why? Is she just being stubborn, or is there something else?

Copy picture

Slowly, skillfully, director Xiaoshuai Wang weaves a web with Deng at its centre. There are echoes of Haneke's Hidden or Cronenberg's A History Of Violence. As Deng travels around the city, she keeps seeing the same young man. Is he following her? The Neighbourhood Watch group is alerted to her situation. The police begin to take things seriously, no longer dismissing her as just a crazy old woman looking for attention. But will it be enough?

When we reach a certain distance from revolutions, it becomes easier to forget the aggression involved, to think of their legacy as harmless. China has changed a lot over the years. Deng's life is not markedly different from that of women like her in the West. There's no sign of a police state, of political coercion. But can the past be so easily dismissed?

Wang's China is a place where nothing is quite as it seems, or as habit and tradition say it should be. Daughters-in-law are traditionally carers for old women, but Deng's is constantly infuriated by her. We see Deng's younger son briefly embrace a male friend, hinting at the possible breaking of another taboo. Elsewhere in the building, a woman cowers from her husband. We never actually see him hit her. As with the calls, it's the implication that's the thing. The world is full of secrets. If Deng really has done something terrible, it's unlikely she's the only one; and how does society move on from that?

A slow, tantalising film that builds toward a devastating conclusion, Red Amnesia takes a hard look at a society in which forgetting alone cannot be enough. No matter how often we look away, the sense of threat and the weight of unspoken guilt remain.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2015
Share this with others on...
Red Amnesia packshot
Small but sinister events in a quiet widow's life hint at the ghosts of the Cultural Revolution.

Director: Wang Xiaoshuai

Writer: Lei Fang, Xiaoshuai Wang

Starring: Zhong Lü, Yuanzheng Feng, Hao Qin

Year: 2014

Runtime: 116 minutes

Country: China


Glasgow 2015

Search database:

If you like this, try: