Sunday, April 07, 2024

ND/NF ’24: Break No. 1 & Break No. 2 (short)

There is only good thing about censors. Since they are crude creatures of their ruling regime, they are mostly dim bulbs and largely out of their depth when it comes to experimental film. Maybe that is why this short film exists. Technically, it is two films that are possibly related, but part two directly references censorship. If you want to gingerly stick your toe into the avant-garde, a good place to start would be Lei Lei’s Break No. 1 & Break No. 2, which screens during New Directors/New Films 2024.

This first “Break,” tells a rather tragic but highly relatable human story, albeit in a somewhat elliptical manner. The narrator’s tale of his lover, who inexplicably committed suicide in hotel room also has extra resonance the filmmaker perhaps never intended. Nevertheless, it is a fact a wave of convenient suicides has swept over Hong Kong, suspiciously targeting supporters of the Umbrella protests.

In this case, the photos the narrator’s lover always carried were also mysteriously missing, which again echoes experiences of Hong Kongers. It all unfolds over a montage of static shots of the lover’s hotel room and close-ups of the retro light fixtures, which was maybe a blessing, because the unsophisticated will quickly tune out.

During the second “Break,” the narrator discusses a visit he made with his lover (not expressively identified as the suicide victim in the first break, but that seems to be a logical assumption) to public video booth that screened serious cinema instead of skin flicks. Unfortunately, the proprietor could never find the John Woo gangster film that wanted to watch.

Rather boldly, Lei Lei incorporates footage of a real-life incident, in which Chinese authorities destroyed truckloads of VHS tapes, crushing them with a steam-roller and then incinerating the debris in an open field. Again, he never claims
A Better Tomorrow was part of that tape-burning, but the pairing was surely not accidental.

Stylistically, both
Breaks stand firmly in the avant-garde, yet they represent some of the most accessible experimental filmmaking you might ever have the chance to see. It is rather poignant in the way it evokes deeply personal memories, but it also seems to imply more than it can safely say. Highly recommended, Break No. 1 & Break No. 2 screens tomorrow (4/8) and Wednesday (4/10) as part of Shorts Program II at this year’s ND/NF.