Shen Dai had remained in China, there is no way an Isabelle Huppert-like film
star ever would have been part of her social circle. In this case, it is probably
safe to say “Isabelle” is based on Huppert, since she is played by the screen
legend herself. That bit of casting was quite a coup for Hu Wei’s latest short
film, but it never overshadows the complicated emotions at the center of What Tears Us Apart, which screens as
part of Shorts Program 1 during the
2017 Sundance Film Festival.
are indeed social-political implications to Shen Dai’s story that viewers might
guess (especially if they are cognizant of the government’s strict family
planning policies), but they still ought to let Hu reveal everything in his own
due time. Initially, we are not sure why an older Chinese couple is visiting
Isabelle and her gracious slightly older husband Benoît—nor perhaps are they.
Eventually, we figure out they are really there to see Shen Dai and her
daughter, but she prefers to have Isabelle and Benoît present to run
interference. However, when the three finally sit down just themselves, the
older woman’s emotions come gushing out uncontrollably.
always, Huppert is a force to be reckoned with, but you will be hard pressed to
see a more haunting performance than Nai An’s devastating portrayal of Shen Dai,
in any film of any length. Clearly, her life in France has thus far been more
comfortable than it would have been had she remained in China. Yet, we get a
visceral sense of her lingering pain and resentment. Although more active as a
producer, Nai An also gave a remarkably sensitive and powerful lead performance
in Ying Liang’s When Night Falls, a
film of such bold integrity it caused the filmmaker to be declared persona non
grata in his Mainland homeland. As an added bonus, veteran French character
actor André Wilms (Le Havre) nicely
counterbalances the tart Huppert as the easygoing Benoît.
Hu was nominated for an Oscar for his previous
short film Butter Lamp, which seems
worlds removed from WTUA, at least on
paper. However, both shorts are marked by Hu’s carefully rendered visual
compositions. This is twenty-minute chamber drama, but he and cinematographer
Julien Poupard make it look both delicately intimate and impressively cinematic.
Based on Butter Lamp and WTUA, Hu’s first feature should be an
event to eagerly anticipate. Very highly recommended, What Tears Us Apart screens with Shorts Program 1 today (1/20) at the Sundance Resort, Wednesday
(1/25) at Salt Lake, and tomorrow (1/21) and next Saturday (1/28) here in Park
City, as part of this year’s Sundance.
Labels: French Cinema, Hu Wei, Isabelle Huppert, Nai An, Short Films, Sundance '17