an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘film

Limi girl: part 5

leave a comment »

Canto: From the hospital we switch back to the village. Heigo’s mother comes home to find her brother-in-law waiting for her. He has brought gifts from Shifang, in Sichuan, but the woman rejects them angrily. The brother-in-law tries to placate her, he wants to see Gaidi…

Jacinta: This is an expository scene. the mother says ‘you’ve been fixing shoes here for over 10 years, you married Gaidi’s mother, you gave us nothing, you went back to Sichuan, you want to have a son, I don’t blame you, but you left Gaidi here 6 years ago without a word or a care’. Wow, big news – and now we know why the other kids teased Gaidi.

Canto: And the brother-in-law is now sheepish, the recent earthquake has changed him, he’s reassessed his values he says. He’s referring to the massive Sichuan earthquake of 2008, which killed over 80,000 and left millions homeless. And while he speaks, Gaidi and Heigo have come up behind him. On realising who the man is, she rushes past them and locks herself in the house. Heigo, her cousin, begs her to open the door, and she complies. Clearly though, neither Gaidi nor Heigo are happy with this brother-in-law/father and his gifts.

Jacinta: The father enters the house and sits beside Gaidi. She is holding the postcard of Shifang that was seen near the beginning of the film. This is another tear-jerking scene, and I don’t mean that as a cliché. Tears drop on the postcard and we’re not sure whose tears they are. And next we see Gaidi, out of her traditional dress, with her father, going to meet ‘sister’ Xiumei, who’s out at work with her donkey. She has come to say goodbye, she’s going back to Sichuan with her father. It’s a bitter-sweet parting, but Xiumei is smiling. ‘Don’t forget, Wumulong will always be your home’, she says. I think it’s the first time this village is mentioned. ‘Yes, I will always be a Limi girl’, Gaidi responds. The father seems a little unsettled at this. So there’s a general parting, Heigo takes Gaidi and her dad away in his ‘car’, leaving Xiumei and Heigo’s mother alone, and then Heigo’s mother, who has brought Gaidi up for the last six years, is left, bereft and unrewarded it seems, to gaze after the suddenly departed girl.

Canto: Next scene, Xiumei is tending her father, now out of hospital. Some local young people arrive and invite her to ‘the Lover’s Valley’, and her dad urges her to go. It’s some sort of ritual, with black sheets flapping on makeshift lines and children running about. Heigo is there, and women in traditional dress, working hard. Red paper decorations, which symbolise something, are blown around in the wind. Heigo picks one up and examines it. Musicians play, and young men and women dance in ritual lines under decorated trees. It’s clearly a Limi thing, to do with dance and romance. Sometime they dance and sing in large circles. Xiumei takes part happily, but Heigo’s outside it all, watching morosely. Finally he grabs Xiumei and pulls her out of the dance. She’s not happy. ‘It’s our Limi Valentine’s Day,’ he says, and he must declare himself. She tells him clearly this cannot be. He wants to know if she is leaving. He wants to leave too, he says, but his heart is full of contradictions. He will leave if she does. She reminds him of Shuguo, who loves him. He wants to go out and work again, he’s drifting. If he must come back to marry…

Limi Valentine’s Day

Jacinta: It’s Xiumei he wants to marry of course. But she has made it clear to him. It’s an awkward scene for her, and she tries to be firm without cruelty. She returns heavily to the dance, Heigo walks, staggers, away. Next we see him burning bags of – what? – in a home-made fire. ‘I thought only I could help you, Xiumei,’ he says. But now, perhaps, he realises.. We see tangles of wicker in the fire. I don’t know what they signify.

Canto: And next we see Shuguo dressed in red, admiring herself in the mirror. Her mother scolds her, she should wear traditional black for her wedding, and not look too pretty. But Shuguo stands up for herself, her little battle against tradition.

Jacinta: We switch to a procession in the beautiful countryside, a wedding procession, with Heigo and Shuguo in the centre, in traditional outfits. Shuguo looks thrilled, Heigo looks like he’s walking to his execution. They arrive at the wedding-place amid singing and music. They begin kowtowing to the ancestors, but Heigo breaks away. He announces to the assembled: ‘Thank you for coming to the wedding, but today I must break my engagement.’ His shocked mother slaps him, then pleads with him before the distressed Shuguo, who, she says, has been brought to the brink.

Canto: But Heigo responds, ‘I don’t like Shuguo at all’, which is surely harsh, he has seemed to make her a symbol of all that he’s rebelling against. Still, he’s adamant, he’s rejecting this traditional village life. He departs, leaving Shuguo devastated. Then we see the paper symbol again, which a bit of research tells me means ‘double happiness’, or marriage.

Jacinta: Shuguo’s not just devastated, but disgraced before the whole village. What will become of her?

Canto: We’re approaching the end. Next comes a brief scene of Xiumei sitting on a rock in the fields, books open, studying. And then another woman, dragging her suitcase down a rubble path. At first I thought it was Xiumei, leaving the village, but it’s Shuguo. She arrives at a motorbike, driven by a cousin no doubt, and climbs aboard. Heigo watches from a hillside, impassive. She’s probably leaving for another village, out of the limelight.

Jacinta: Switch to an urban scene, a crowd of students are coming out of classes, descending a wide stairway in a stream of colour, a bright contrast to greys and blacks of the Limi villagers. One of the students is Xiumei, and Heigo is waiting for her. She is still quite traditionally dressed. He takes her for a ride on his motorbike, back into the countryside – perhaps it’s Spring break or something – and when he drops her off, presumably within walking distance of home, he gives this vital speech: ‘Xiumei, this is the last time I will see you off. I have already hurt Shugio. I can’t hurt you again. Go study and fulfil your dream. Don’t be a drifting labourer like us. There is no hurry to pay me back. When you earn a salary in the future you can repay both the principal and the interest.’

Canto: It’s another powerful scene, and Heigo drives off, leaving Xiumei speechless, perhaps overwhelmed. This ain’t gonna be a Hollywood ending, though much in us might yearn for it.

Jacinta: We next see Xiumei’s dad sadly selling her donkey. And then Xiumei, still dressed traditionally, runs for the postman, who caters to the edge of the village on a motorbike. She’s expecting good news. She receives a package and smiles on opening the letter. She runs home and tells her mother that she’s won entry into college. The earlier scene must’ve involved an entrance exam.

Canto: She asks after her father. He has gone to work with the other villagers to earn money for her tuition. He’s already saved 500 (RMB?), which her mother hands over. It must be some of the money from the donkey. Xiumei looks upset, It seems as if something’s wrong…

Jacinta: Xiumei rushes out to find her father. On her way she encounters a wedding procession – it’s Shuguo! And she’s not wearing traditional costume this time (she had succumbed last time to her mother’s wishes and was in traditional garb when Heigo walked out on her), and her groom is wearing a modern suit. So it has worked out for her after all. Xiumei continues on, hurrying up the mountain. Then we see two people on a bus, Heigo, and in front of him, Xiumei’s father. He’s holding a postcard pic of a young woman in dance pose, in a bright red dress. Is it Xiumei? Is it an image of what Xiumei might become?

Canto: And then we return to Xiumei, running, running, until she reaches a high clearing, from which she can see the road winding away from the village, with the bus, carrying Heigo and her father, and the other villagers, all working to help her with her college life. No pressure! And so ends the movie.

the Limi girl

 

point final

I’ve seen no other Chinese movie like this, indeed no other movie. It’s a film about difficult choices, desperate hopes, crushing disappointments, quiet suffering, and tough struggles. It’s also about self-sacrifice, persistence, stoicism, love. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen, and I don’t see too many these days. Examining it intensively like this has given me an insight into the film-maker’s craft that I’ve never experienced before, and such scrutiny doesn’t lessen the film’s impact, it strengthens it. I’m tempted to do what too many people do, to rubbish other films by contrast, but I’ll resist that. Suffice to say that this film is a tribute to a world too easily overlooked, and such worlds are everywhere and need to be acknowledged, respected and indeed cherished, for all their flaws and limitations in our eyes. The film, of course, is not a hymn of praise to the world depicted, but it does recognise its rough beauty and its successes in adversity. I will never forget it.

 

Written by stewart henderson

May 12, 2018 at 6:12 pm