This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Now, the heady days of 2006 saw the appearance of a strange, yet rather compelling film called How Is Your Fish Today? I’m forced to admit that this is the sort of film I make the decision to watch based purely on the abstract nature of the title, however it turned out to be quite the treat. In part biographical, part fiction, part documentary, part something else entirely, it was certainly one of the more memorable and interesting films of that year’s crop and one of the few films I regret not taking time to write about, as it seems to have otherwise evaporated completely
News of the director Xiaolu Guo’s latest film showing at the 2k8 incarnation of the festival was therefore rather well received from this quarter at least, although exactly when I started being a quarter I’m not sure. While this outing shows less of the inventiveness of the last effort, it’s certainly charming enough to warrant at least a small portion of your attention.
That said, writing any sort of plot synopsis is not going to sound massively promising. Guo picks up a black and white camera, or at least switches mode on a colour one, and follows her mother and father around as they take a trip to Europe from their home in China to see both their daughter and the sights.
Part travelogue, part exploration of an elder Chinese generation’s attitudes to the Western world (that being the titular Wonderland conceit), the obviously personal element of the film does allow for a great deal of charm to sally forth from the screen. Guo’s father has suffered from throat cancer, having his voicebox removed and only able to communicate through writing notes. While this provides another interesting narrative hook to hang the film upon, it also in this case means than often his statements appear as flashing white text on a plain black background, rather unfortunately putting one in mind of a Monty Python skit and expecting Graham Chapman to show up and declare it all far too silly.
This, of course, doesn’t happen, although it sometimes seems that it should. Regardless of how interestingly shot this is, and even when capturing fairly mundane events and locales Guo has an great eye for details and framing, there’s the inescapable feeling that this is not much more than “What My Parents Did On Their Holiday”, by Xiaolu Guo, aged eight and a half.
This is harsh. There may perhaps be little of of devastatingly original cultural commentary on show here, what with Guo the Elder’s major criticism of Western culture being that the garbage isn’t collected frequently enough, but that doesn’t stop it being a lovely, engaging tale of lives less ordinary than my on dismal little existence. Hopefully will prove to be a little more accessible than Guo’s previous outing, as she’s proving to be a filmmaker I’d love to see more of. Or even a DVD of her previous stuff would be a welcome start.