DRIFTING FLOWERS (Zero Chou, 2008)

“Are you a girl or a boy?” eight-year-old Meigo/May asks accordianist Chalkie/Diego, who accompanies blind nightclub singer Jing, Meigo’s sister, in lesbian writer-director Zero Chou’s delicate, beautifully acted, exceptionally lovely Piao lang qing chun. This question recurs throughout the tripartite film from Taiwan, whose Mandarin title translates into English as The Drifting Waves of Youth. In its final occurrence, in the final segment, a younger Chalkie asks herself, “Am I a girl or a boy?” Her sexual awakener sympathetically answers, “[You are] a girl, of course—a girl who doesn’t like her body.” An intermediate incarnation of the question comes, in the middle segment, from a swarm of teenaged boys ridiculing another character, a transgender boy, who is H.I.V.-positive in a park. (This segment also involves an aging lesbian who is marked by another “fault”: Alzheimer’s Disease.) We are buoyed, though, by having seen Chalkie earlier in the film, although later in time, confident, poised in her skin. Still, we absorb that social taunts of lesbians and gays echo their self-doubts and self-taunts, their youthful identity crisis.
     Miego, motherless, gravitates toward Chalkie’s “coolness” and maternal warmth. She becomes enraged, therefore, when Jing and Chalkie become lovers; the child feels shut out. (Jing’s blindness also draws social rebuke.) This first segment, flashing forward to Miego’s wedding, ends on a note that reflects considerable psychological and social complexity.
     Bits of the past interrupt the present. A motif, which reminded me of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s masterful Dust in the Wind (1987), involves a train passing through a tunnel; inside the tunnel, it appears that the train is moving forward toward the tunnel opening we see, an aperture of light, when in fact it is moving in the opposite direction. We see it exiting: a confusion of movement, time, identity.

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