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Limi girl: part 5

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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

Limi girl: part 4

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Canto: In the next scene, Heigo returns home to find Shugio helping his mother with some chores, and accuses her of sucking up. She cheerfully acknowledges the fact, and mocks his sense of outrage. Heigo tells her he hates her, Shugio says she likes him. When Heigo’s mother sees them disputing, Shugio makes light of it. Next, we see Xiumei selling her collected fleece-flower and gentian, while Heigo dolefully watches her.

Jacinta: We might say ‘stalking’, but it seems a mite unfair in the context. She’s travelling through the rugged neighbourhood with her laden donkey, he’s following at a distance. Then, while fording a stream, she drops her bag in the water. Heigo to the rescue! They both chase the bag downstream, but Heigo gets to it first. Xiumei has no option but to be grateful, and she lets him accompany her…

Canto: It doesn’t really look like a reconciliation. They arrive at a kind of trading post, with young women exchanging goods for money. I think Shugio’s one of them. Abuse and admonitions rain down on Xiumei and ‘Shugio’s Heigo’ for being shamefully together. Xiumei is tearfully mad… She arrives home in a fury, having apparently shaken off her wannabe lover.

Jacinta: Her parents, sitting together husking corn, see something’s up. Her mother goes to her, and Xiumei just bawls in her arms. But soon after, she’s back at work, sorting out her baskets of herbs and roots, while her father watches from behind, at a loss as to how to help his daughter.

Canto: And in the next scene the father is visiting a school. We find that he’s asked her former teacher to come and talk to Xiumei. So the teacher comes to her home, expresses sorrow that things haven’t worked out for her, and offers her work as a substitute teacher. But she declines, she wants to pass the exam and leave her village once more. ‘It’s not easy for you or your father,’ he says, but she’s determined, though apologetic, even fearful.

Jacinta: So our brave heroine is next seen on the hills, dancing with young Gaidi, finding reasons to be cheerful, but of course Heigo is lurking. He approaches them, and Xiumei tells him the good news that her old teacher has promised to help her with a student loan if she passes her exam. Heigo looks none too happy about this, but Gaidi invites him to dance.

Canto: And surprise surprise, there they are innocently dancing when who should happen along but Shugio…

Jacinta: Some cinematic conventions are inevitable. Ahhh, but it turns out not to be Shugio… these village girls look much the same in their native costume. It’s another village girl who then hurries back to tell Shugio that ‘her’ Heigo is dancing and hugging with Xiumei – something of an exaggeration. Shugio jumps on her motorbike…

Canto: So it’s her motorbike after all. At least we’ve sorted one thing out…

Jacinta: But it won’t start. So she heads off on foot. She finds the three of them dancing together, and tries to separate them, talking of shamelessness, which naturally riles Xiumei. ‘Who do you think you are?’ yells Heigo. ‘I’m your fiancée,’ is Shugio’s tearful reply, (so goes the translation, though I suspect the romantic French word doesn’t quite capture it. Maybe betrothed?). Heigo looks put-upon and unimpressed, Xiumei, doesn’t want to know, and Shugio just runs off. It’s becoming tragic.

Canto: Not to mention claustrophobic. In the next scene we see Xiumei’s father, feeding the donkey, and Shugio turns up – presumably straight from the dancing altercation, saying ‘Uncle’. So they’re all a bit close for comfort. He invites her to come inside, and that’s where the scene ends. We can imagine… And so in the next scene Heigo is sitting having a drink with a friend, in the dark, under a full moon. ‘Wumulong is so beautiful’, says the friend, and I think he’s talking about their village. Heigo says, everyone wants to leave, and then they come back, then they want to leave again… He’s talking about the younger gen, no doubt. His friend (or is it his cousin), though, gives him no comfort, saying it’s natural for people to miss their homes. Heigo goes on, speaking about why people leave, but his friend keeps bringing him back home, to the right place, to belonging.

Jacinta: Outside of this dark circle of conversation is a young child, and, presumably, a wife, his friend’s wife. The woman, barely seen, is saying ‘go back to sleep’, but the child says no, no, no, no, louder and louder, and the defiant sound rings in Heigo’s defiant ears. It’s a nicely-caught moment from the director. I like this director.

Canto: The talk turns to Xiumei and Shugio, and again Heigo’s advised, in spite of his feelings, to stick with Shugio as ‘your daily necessity. You’ll understand in the future’. The whole scene emphasises Heigo’s isolation.

Jacinta: We next find Heigo arriving at Xiumei’s place – it’s quite confusing who lives where in this film, and their actual kin relations! Xiumei has locked herself in, and her mother is trying to interest her in some dinner. Heigo addresses Xiumei’s mother as ‘aunty’, and she tells Heigo that, after Shugio’s visit in which she told ‘everything’!?, Xiumei’s father scolded her (Xiumei). Heigo tries to communicate with Xiumei, but gets nowhere, and then her father asks to talk to him. Clearly this isn’t going to turn out well for poor Heigo.

Canto: Yes so Heigo has to endure the expected. Family reputation is the most important thing for Limi people, the elder says, and one day Xiumei, too, will marry (assuming of course that Heigo must marry Shugio). So, the elder says, if you really feel for Xiumei, you must simply help her towards a bright future.

Jacinta: Though what about Heigo’s future, forced to marry someone he doesn’t love? But Heigo, who is generally respectful to his elders – apart maybe from his mother – says that he understands, and the conversation ends. Has he really given up on Xiumei? As for that ‘family reputation’ thing, it makes me think of honour killings and the like. But this is how marriage was in other times, and is in other places…

Canto: And the elder’s statement that Xiumei too will marry, as if it’s the family’s decision, not hers, that’s kind of chilling to a western viewer. In the next scene, the wedding is being arranged by the adults, with Shugio present. The snare is tightening. And we learn in this conversation that Heigo’s father died when he was young – this explains his obstinacy, his mother apologises.

Jacinta: Next we find Xiumei visiting houses with her donkey, wanting to buy medicinal herbs for some reason. And then we switch to Gaidi in another part of the neighbourhood, being teased by some children as a ‘Szichuan girl’, but then Heigo arrives saying he’s bought a new ‘car’, though it’s actually a motorbike, and he offers her a ride, which she gladly accepts. The point of this scene, I now realise, is that Heigo has asserted his independence from Shugio by buying his own bike rather than riding hers. Switch back to Xiumei, who encounters another young woman on the mountain trail. It’s someone who was her classmate in elementary school, though Xiumei doesn’t recognise her at first. It’s been ten years. They walk the trail chatting, talking about Xiumei’s studies and the problems of working and studying, and the gossip about Heigo. It’s Xiumei’s classmate who does most of the talking. After a while, Xiumei tells her she should go, back to her husband. Her old friend complies, and then she turns back, and says, ‘Xiumei, you must go back to college, don’t end up having a life like mine!’ I’ve seen this film a few times now, and my eyes well up  every time I watch this scene. The music comes on to heighten the significance of the moment, and it’s painfully effective, damn it.

Canto: Yes it’s a key moment, Xiumei watches her friend’s retreating back, no doubt feeling she’s carrying more than her own hopes into the future. So Xiumei wends her way home, to find Gaidi waiting for her. Uncle is sick, she says, and he’s been taken to the hospital.

Jacinta: That must be Xiumei’s dad? She rushes off to the hospital, and we see her confusion as she negotiates the wards. She finds Heigo and her mother. The doctor says he needs an operation, and asks for payment. Xiumei rushes off again to make the payment… is this money she has saved?

Canto: But we don’t see her make the payment, all we get is that it costs 1600 RMB, and next we find her visiting Shugio, in a desperate bid for money. Shugio is drying herbs and tries to ignore her, but when Xiumei kneels before her, Shugio quickly relents, and pays her 500 RMB for a few herbs. She has to force Xiumei to take all the money, and then turns her back when Xiumei tries to thank her.

Jacinta: Though of course she’s concerned. So back at the hospital, Xiumei is feeding and tending to her father. Devotion and tenderness, with all the underlying tensions…

Canto: So here ends part 4 of our near-endless review, or walk-through, of this very interesting movie. We will wrap it up in part 5.

 

Written by stewart henderson

September 26, 2017 at 8:52 am