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A Family's Implosion

Hai shang cheng shi (The Fragile House) - Signs of Life

A Family's Implosion

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Lin Zi’s explosive debut begins on New Year’s in Fujian province, with fireworks, a hell of a lot of fireworks. Literal, of course, but also the implosion of a family: two sisters revive an argument over money, leading to the police being called to attempt a resolution. What follows from scene to scene are different kinds of fireworks, as Lin launches technique after technique into the air, from time-lapse dissolve, to multiple images (or other ways of subdivision) within the frame, to the shift from color to grainy monochrome, from stable camera to, all of a sudden, handheld; surprisingly, most of these stylistic shifts detonate without a hitch. Lin Zi’s most prevalent technique is to vary the masking of his image, with almost all of the film’s action taking place swimming amid a sea of inky black, creating the feeling of voyeuristically observing something like a dream, with scenes of domestic life as well as business, or, in the case of the troubled child ChaoChao, school life, swallowed by darkness. As the traditional understanding of “the family” is undergoing the process of change in a rapidly developing China, it makes sense that the way family life is portrayed needs to find new forms. Through its daring attempts at experimentation as it depicts rootlessness, Hai shang cheng shi reframes the debate.

Mark Peranson

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