Friday, October 22, 2010

LFF 2010: Winter Vacation

Craig here with more from the LFF 2010

Winter Vacation (Han jia), the acclaimed new film from writer-poet Li Hongqi, arrives at the LFF with prizes from both the Seoul and Locarno film festivals. It languorously tracks the existence of a community of mostly-related residents, chiefly a gang of teens awaiting their return to school,  during the last days of a particularly desolate and weather-soured holiday in a Chinese housing complex. It’s visually chilly, but, despite the intriguing barrage of listlessly austere long takes, its tone is markedly light – but deceptively, drably so (yet it still manages to arouse pertinent issues about contemporary China with sly craft). We’re in the kind of film territory usually dominated by the likes of Aki Kaurismäki and Jim Jarmusch – although neither of those bastions of the brazenly bizarre could have shaped as film as dry and droll as this.

The film is loosely structured as a series of interconnected vignettes: a grandfather and grandson verbally spar in a front room; a couple get a divorce; a vegetable market opens to a few frugally-minded customers; a group of youths squabble and loaf around on discarded sofas or stand comically inert amid the bleak industrial surroundings. Humorous banter is frequent, and is on the whole very funny. These exchanges and the lengthy silences between them create some inspired moments of comic interaction. It’s also beautifully edited by Li: he’s very much the auteur on the film, and he shows considerable directorial style and a great knack for pace. Also worth mention is the film’s alluring, off-kilter soundtrack (courtesy of Zuoxiao Zuzhou and The Top Floor Circus): onscreen noises, both diegetic and non-, and odd acapella voices-off enhance the strange, plaintive rhythm of Li’s direction. Winter Vacation is a minor treat – not solely for those with acquired arthouse tastes – to seek out if and when it gets a theatrical release. B

Winter Vacation is at the LFF on Friday 22nd & Saturday 23rd October

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