LFF 2019 Day Twelve: So Long, My Son and Bombay Rose (both 2019) and House of Hummingbird (2018)

My final day of the London Film Festival sends me to three films from Asia (two directed by women), and all of which deal with families in their various guises, though Bombay Rose has more of a romantic flavour than the other two. All three represent reasons why I continue to love contemporary cinema, and value the films that the LFF presents.


地久天长 Di Jiu Tian Chang (So Long, My Son, 2019) [China]

I feel like Chinese-language cinema isn’t exactly short of epic multi-generational stories of the changes in Chinese society as mirrored in the lives of a single family: it basically defined a lot of those Fifth Generation films that I grew up with, not to mention Taiwanese masterpieces like A City of Sadness and recent works by fellow Sixth Generations filmmakers like Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart (2015). However, for all that, it’s a sub-genre of family drama that has paid dividends in the past, and it does here too, giving a rich sense of change over the years. Even when traumatic events occur, they’re removed from any grand melodramatic gestures: the skittish narrative which switches back and forth between time periods and settings, not to mention the elegant long-take style ensure that character details are built up slowly over the course of the film. For example, an early scene of (possible) tragedy unfolds in extreme long-shot, such that it’s not exactly certain who has suffered or what has happened, and this scene becomes one which threads throughout the film, across the generations, though the movement between time periods suggests almost immediately afterwards that everything worked out fine for that character, when the reality is more complex. There are hints too of buried love stories and other familial sadnesses, all of which move by almost imperceptibly except for the way that characters glance at one another, and carry all the more weight for that. If there’s an allegory for China over the same decades, it’s not heavy-handedly expressed as in some other similar films, and this is a wonderful piece of ensemble cinema.

So Long, My Son film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Wang Xiaoshuai 王小帅; Cinematographer Kim Hyun-seok 김현석; Starring Wang Jingchun 王景春, Yong Mei 咏梅, Ai Liya 艾丽娅; Length 185 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Soho, London, Sunday 13 October 2019.


Bombay Rose (2019) [India/France/Qatar]

A richly animated film about love across various divides, focusing primarily on two poor workers, a Hindu girl who sells jasmine blossoms and a Muslim boy who hawks flower bouquets to passing trade on either side of the same busy Mumbai road. There are also side characters, the wealthier English-speaking Miss D’Souza and the antiques dealer, all of whose stories intersect by the end. For all their depressed circumstances, there’s a thread of hope and warmth running through the film, though it could hardly be otherwise given the saturated colours and the constant music, which gives this setting a vibrancy and feeling that you wonder might not transfer if not animated. Certainly, animated cinema from India isn’t exactly easy to find, so it’s lovely to see such a lovingly-crafted example of it.

Bombay Rose film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Gitanjali Rao; Starring Cyli Khare, Amit Deondi; Length 93 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Sunday 13 October 2019.


벌새 Beol-sae (House of Hummingbird, 2018) [South Korea]

I found this affecting in ways I wasn’t expecting, largely because it doesn’t punch up the little teenage traumas it depicts. It’s set in 1994, though the setting isn’t a major focus (there’s no modish interest in wacky fashions or hairstyles or pop culture that many films like to trade in when doing period), and it’s about a teenager going through what are very familiar rites of passage: first kiss; flirtations with others (both boys and girls); falling out with friends; having a crush on a teacher; being bullied by her brother; et al. However, for all of this — and the bullying in particular seems like it’s pretty intense at times — the film manages to cover this all without a sense of melodrama, even managing to feel somewhat heartwarming as Eunhee (Park Ji-hoo) takes all that’s thrown at her (which is a fair bit) with grace and a tenacious resolve. It could certainly have easily become quite tedious if not done well, and I’m looking forward now to more films from debut director Kim Bo-ra.

House of Hummingbird film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Kim Bo-ra 김보라; Cinematographer Kang Gook-hyun 강국현; Starring Park Ji-hoo 박지후, Kim Sae-byuk 김새벽; Length 74 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Sunday 13 October 2019.

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