A crossing of symbiotic pathologies; from China, Sheng si jie details the relationship between a college student and a truck driver. The fact-based digital video won as best narrative feature at Tribeca.
It is a stunning social melodrama. Working from a script by Yimei Liao, Li Shaohong presents something of a character puzzle. At film’s opening, the start of a complex portrait, we glimpse Yan’ni in childhood. The six-year old is withdrawn and repressed, abandoned by her single mother and bullied by unsympathetic female relations, who overcompensate at Yan’ni’s expense for the paltry choices available to Chinese women. Yan’ni is passive, withdrawn, vulnerable. We gain perspective from her voiceover—a voice of experience. Muyu, the driver whom she meets by accident at college, draws Yan’ni (Zhou Xun, excellent) into an intimate relationship that is in fact part of a scheme to make money off of her by exploiting to the limit her accepting, passive nature. Muyu, whose personal history is similar to Yan’ni’s, is a misogynist—a peasant boy making money at the expense of the girls he cons. His scheme requires also a manipulation of state practices for its execution.
Yan’ni’s voiceover at turns admits the former Yan’ni’s foolishness, her near willingness to be deceived and manipulated, but the film’s long flashback presents images that press toward her self-exoneration and perpetual irresponsibility and victimization. Ultimately, the fractured soul that these parallel tracks imply come together in a way that underscores Yan’ni’s inconsolable grief, her ongoing situation of being lost to herself. She addresses us directly, as though we can help her. We feel implicated in the tragedy of Yan’ni’s lack of self-determination, which she projects upon us as guilt for her predicament.
Almost surreptitiously, Li is taking accurate aim at gender and class biases.
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