Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wave '16: Zinnia Flower

Buddhism’s traditional rituals for the 7th, 49th, and 100th days after the death of a loved one provide a structure for grief and recovery. Perhaps in some cases the extended time period might also forestall a sense of closure, but not for Ming and Wei. They will need that time to process their emotions in director-co-screenwriter Tom Shu-yu Lin’s Zinnia Flower (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Wave Film Festival in Santa Barbara.

Since Ming had not yet married her fiancé Ren-you before the accident, she does not even have a widow’s privileges during the initial ceremony. Clearly, his parents blame her, even though he was the one driving and apparently he was the one at fault. At least that is how Wei sees it and the police officer taking his statement is not about to correct him. He was driving the other car and survived with only a broken arm, but his pregnant wife was not so fortunate.

Both will follow the proscribed Buddhists rituals, but they will have very different emotional responses. Wei will tend towards rage, while Ming will struggle with understandable depression. Ironically, they will occasionally come in contact with each when they pray at the temple on the requisite days, but Zinnia is not about meet-cutes or the quirky crossing of paths. Rather, it is all about the things Ming and Wei will do to get through as best they can.

As a result, there are no artificially grand moments of pay-off in Zinnia. It is a film filled with small moments, yet we come to understand how much effort some of those moments require of them. If it seems like Lin really understand his material that is because he does. Sadly, Zinnia was conceived as a means to respond to the death of his own wife and to capture the complicated feelings experienced during the mourning period. The resulting Zinnia will absolutely rip your guts out, but like his previous film, the deeply endearing Starry, Starry Night, it is ultimately life affirming.

Karena Lam certainly does her share of the gut-ripping. As Ming she is exquisitely expressive and fragile. No matter how much you think you have your guard up, she will still absolutely demolish you. She has a surprise accomplice in Bryan Chang who has done fine work in films like 1 Mile Above, but displays hitherto unseen depth and pathos as Ren-you’s mournful younger brother, Ren-yi. Stone (a.k.a. Shih Chin-hang) counterbalances them quite effectively as the angry, bitterly confused Wei. Through him, Lin shows a side of grief we do no often see in films, but it is very real.

Lin helms with supreme sensitivity and confidence, matched perfectly by Yu Jing Pin’s delicately arresting cinematography. Judging from Zinnia and Starry, Starry Night, Lin is unquestionably one of the most talented young filmmakers on the world cinema scene today. Frankly, it is rather baffling Zinnia Flower has yet to be picked by an American specialty distributor, so those in the Santa Barbara area should by all means plan to attend when it screens this Thursday (5/12) and Saturday (5/14) during the SBIFF’s Wave Film Festival (which is also featuring the highly recommended The Chronicles of Evil, The Laundryman, Mr. Six, Right Now Wrong Then, and Sweet Bean).