While I didn’t see that many films for the festival, it felt good to agree with an award for once. Xiang Zi won an award for Best First Feature and it’s extremely worthy of its award.
The film is a wonderfully unique and exquisite story that with such control from the director. Never allowing you to get further than she wants you to get. On top of that, it’s edited in a very moving and swaying motion. It weaves in and out of everyone’s past, so you’re never aware of where you truly are.
The film is about Xiaoyu as she returns home with her American husband to China as she is six months pregnant. She is returning home to spend time surrounded by the toxic relationship that she grew up stuck in the middle of it all. At first, her father is distant and goes to bed quickly and her mother seems sweet and just like most mothers, very endearing about trying to make them eat more and more. This is why she turns around later and calls her daughter her nemesis – and means it – it’s far more alarming.
As someone who grew up in families that yell, it was a bittersweet feeling knowing I felt both at home and felt like running out of the theatre at the same time. It’s clear that her parents should and have discussed getting a divorce so that they may live their life with someone else, someone they could happy with. But that’s part of the issue with societal norms, and generational norms, sometimes it convinces us that we aren’t allowed to be normal or happy. We must adhere to their beliefs and live our life as a lie.
Xiaoyu’s father was found cheating on his wife with another man. In Chinese, Tongzhi means same will or same purpose. This led to being slang for gay. As qi means wife. When together, tongqi is a term for women who married gay men. Closeted or out. The film is a fascinating look at the culture in which men who are gay still marry or have children with women only for the sole purpose of continuing the bloodline.
This makes the film harder to watch and a bit more of an endurance test at times – and that’s meant in a good way, it feels like we are peaking into a personal life with the doors blown wide open. It’s both because they were raised at a certain time, at the wrong time, but time has changed, and they should have learned better. Her mother, Jiumel who debatably is both the star and villain of the film, makes references to her husband’s disease – and that’s when you think she’s gone too far. But she continues to cause issues.
The movie opens with Jiumel giving birth to her daughter, and does so completely unphased. It’s tough to see, as we are accustomed to watching mothers being emotional during labour, but instead, we see someone who is completely removed from emotion at the time. And as the film continues, we can see it’s partially due to living out a lie for your life. It’s a lifeless stare that acknowledges that she was forced to forget who she was, and she did. If things were different, they’d be with other partners, and they could truly be happy with who they are. And it’s sad to realize that they weren’t given that opportunity.