Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Slamdance ’16: Under the Sun (short)

Don’t get involved. No good deed goes unpunished. Those seem to be the takeaways from this unfortunate story, set in the go-go city of Changzhou. The commercial hub is booming, but many have been left behind. This causes resentments that will complicate a rather simple everyday tragedy in screenwriter-director-editor Qiu Yang’s short film Under the Sun (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival.

While returning home on a late night bus, a teenager sees an elderly woman collapse. Being a Good Samaritan, he schleps her to the hospital, but as a reward for his service, the woman’s grown daughter threatens to sue his family, accusing him of tripping her mother. It seems perversely unfair, because it will jeopardize the decent kid’s future plans. However, as we learn the daughter’s grim circumstances, we come to sympathize with her as well. Sadly but inevitably, tragedy will compound rather dramatically.

Judging from Sun (which shines very little), Qiu seems to be highly influenced by Tsai Ming-liang, both in terms of aesthetics and the street-level, socially-informed subject matter, with maybe a pinch of Ozu sprinkled in. It is a darkly humanistic film that offers empathy for nearly all its characters. Qiu captures some extreme emotions, but the visual strategy he and cinematographer Tarun Hansen apply, often framing scenes through doorways, at oblique angles, is initially somewhat distancing. Yet, it forces the audience to fill in some blanks during the grimly logical climax.

Whether Qiu’s stylistic approach could be sustained over a future length film is something we will just have to find out later. As an eighteen minute film, it is quite impressive. For those who are willing to work with it, Under the Sun packs quite a pop. Recommended for everyone interested in independent Chinese-language cinema, Under the Sun screens again this Thursday (1/28), as part of Narrative Shorts Block 1 at this year’s Slamdance.