Fish & Elephant

Described as “the first-ever lesbian film from mainland China,” shot “underground” with nonprofessional actors, this 2001 video centers on three women: an elephant keeper at the Beijing zoo, her new lover, and her ex, who's on the run after murdering her father for raping her in childhood. Like many other current Chinese directors, Li Yu does most scenes in a single take with only rare close-ups, and her gentle but distanced compositions create relationships between actors and viewer very different from those of Hollywood films, which often use intercutting and histrionic acting to manipulate our emotions. A long take in which the daughter comes out to her mother, ending mom's almost comical attempts to find her a husband, lets us imagine the parent's distress through her small movements and few uncomprehending words. And while at first the juxtaposition of scenes seems almost random, it eventually reinforces the tragic trap of the narrative as the police close in on the fugitive. In Chinese with subtitles. 95 min.

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