A retired widow has her daily routine derailed when she starts receiving mysterious, anonymous phone calls.
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★★★½ review by Sam C. Mac on Letterboxd
Worth making time for in your 2018 catch-up! (It's streaming on Mubi.)
Sixth Generation leading light Wang Xiaoshuai was at the vanguard of a 1990s Chinese cinema that dared to grapple with the immediate aftermath of Tiananmen. Films like The Days and Frozen captured the fractured psyche of a generation that thought they were a generation of change, but had those dreams disillusioned by oppressive violence. With Red Amnesia, Wang affirms that this cycle was no anomaly in Chinese history: The film confronts the enduring psychic toll of the Cultural Revolution on the older generation, and examines how fractured relational bonds develop after decades of gestation. The plot structure here even somewhat mirrors The Days, with the first two-thirds set in an industrialized, culturally vacuous Beijing, and the last section moving to a rural area of Guizhou province (where Wang spent his teen years, which coincided with the Cultural Revolution). The Cache-like set-up involves an old widow, Deng Meijuan (Lu Zhong), receiving crank calls that eventually escalate into acts of vandalism and gradually create the unnerving impression that the woman is being surveilled. Wang doesn't really have strong genre filmmaking chops, but he does consistently interesting things with blocking and editing here which play on the perceptions surrounding the film's central mystery. And the resolution of said mystery only occasions more questions, which Wang largely resists turning into cheap reveals. What the director's primarily interested in here is the lasting impact that volatile periods in history can have on the social and cultural life of the present, especially as this reality contradicts official State messaging about China's rapid modernization. Wang's camera lingers on hollowed-out interiors and the facades of weather-beaten buildings, both contemplating their pasts and emphasizing their contemporaneous vacancy. In Beijing, revolutionary songs, performed dutifully by a choir of seniors, emanate from a dingy rehearsal space, while the same generation finds themselves unwanted in their families' homes. The Guizhou section of the film depicts a society that may have succumb less to China's westernization project, but also one that exists more directly in the shadow of history, surrounded by looming shuttered factories, and living in a landscape that immediately bears the marks of the past's devastation. The attentiveness to sociocultural atmosphere in Red Amnesia is almost matched by Wang's sharp relationship dynamics, which reify generational, filial, and cultural responsibilities, in service of heightened drama, in a matter similar to Asghar Farhadi's films. It takes a little while for all these moving pieces to properly shift into place, but when they do, what Wang proves is that, unlike some of his more commercially-minded Sixth Generation peers, his interest in probing at the political consciousness of modern China didn't end with the waning of that movement.
★★★★ review by A. H. on Letterboxd
Family dynamics are particularly interesting in times of change. The younger generation embraces western consumerism and a generally more liberated life, while the older struggles to adjust.
Mrs. Deng, somewhere in her 70s, has a hard time to define herself apart from her role as a mother and grandmother. Her children seem to take her for granted and their relationship has more than usual generational gap hurdle. She remembers the past, or at least appears to, only selectively, making it difficult for her children to really understand her and her values.
It's the details, the things not spoken about that make this an observational story so interesting. When the groundwork for a great character study is laid, the story turns into a mystery as well.
This is the last entry in Wang Xiaoshuai’s cultural revolution trilogy and I really need to see the other two now.
★★★★ review by Luke Martin on Letterboxd
Some debts persist.
★★★½ review by Dave Crewe on Letterboxd
Red Amnesia is a hard film to pin down. Xiaoshuai Wang’s film begins surveying a rundown old house and the brooding young man within, before leaping away to Shanghai to observe Deng (Lü Zhong), a recently widowed woman. She’s being hassled by mysterious phone calls with a sinister undertone, but the police aren’t interested in her complaints, dismissing the calls as dementia-related hallucinations. It seems like Red Amnesia isn’t interested either, observing Deng’s (unwanted) visits to her sons and an aged card facility as the presumed threat of the calls fades into the background.
Mid-film developments take the film into more mysterious territory, as that enigmatic young man re-enters the story. Is this a ghost story? A reflection on aging? A murder mystery? The hypnotic, fractal way time moves in the film – recalling both the peaceful drifting of early Resnais and the jump cuts of early Godard – is exaggerated as the film’s dreamlike atmosphere of unreality blossoms.
In its final moments, Red Amnesias agenda coheres into a political fable and a reflection on long-buried guilt. The elliptical, obfuscatory narrative is a too cute by half (and relies too heavily on late exposition), but the film’s off-kilter atmosphere is entrancing throughout.
★★★★ review by Max Nobel on Letterboxd
Slipping into gaps
Of relationships with the
Past. And falling through.
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