SIFF Day 8 – From China to Sydney

The international premiere of 33 POSTCARDS marks the first product of a fruitful and, hopefully, long-lasting relationship between Australian and Chinese filmmakers…

Zhu Lin and Guy Pierce in 33 POSTCARDS

>>> 33 POSTCARDS (三十三张明信片) (Australia/China, 2011) Dir. Pauline Chan – Scr. Pauline Chan/Philip Dalkin/Martin Edmond – DP. Toby Oliver – Music. Andy Partos – Edit. Jane Moran – Prod. Penny Carl/Pauline Chan/Lesley Stevens/Liu Zhijiang [Screening in New Chinese Media & Production Award block]

Orphaned from an early age without a name, Mei Mei (translated to “little sister”) here played by Zhu Lin, grows-up with a passion for singing in the orphanage’s children’s choir and a deep love for one Mr Dean Randall (Guy Pierce), who sponsors Mei Mei’s education and writes her on 33 sunny, exotic Australian postcards over a period of 10 years. In his post-cards (narrated with a cartoonish Antipodean warmth by Pierce) Dean describes an idyllic life as a park ranger with his wife and two children by a beach teaming with majestic wildlife. Dean’s warmth and the simple beauty of the life he describes inspire Mei Mei to one day meet and become a part of Dean’s family. When Mei Mei’s choir is selected to sing at a choral festival in Australia, Mei Mei is determined to meet with Dean and fulfill her life-long dream of finding herself in the arms of a loving father. Instead of a white-picket-fence by the sea, Mei Mei finds Dean, slight and haunted, serving a prison sentence for manslaughter. Discovering that Dean’s life as she knew it has been pure fantasy, Mei Mei decides that the time has come for her to help Dean in his lonely existence. Trapped inside with protection racketeers breathing down his neck, Dean remains ignorant of Mei Mei’s vulnerability on the outside, as she naively falls into the same criminal underworld that Dean is now trying to leave behind.

As Mei Mei, Zhu Lin radiates the wide-eyed charm of a girl seeing the outside world for the first time and her romance with Carl (Lincoln Lewis), son of the local Capo, allows for many instances of picturesque beauty and low-key culture-clash humor. But the film’s dramatic currency is the unbreakable connection between Mei Mei and Dean, both people abandoned to a world with little love for them. Mei Mei’s dogged insistence on the blossoming of their relationship is key not only to Dean’s redemption but also his rehabilitation into the outside world.

Stacked high with emotional moments and finely judged performances all round the story rides successfully on the back of Mei Mei’s quest to establish herself in the world as she enters womanhood. Despite its title, little is really made of the contrast between Dean’s life in the postcards and his life in reality. It is never really established which character holds the greatest investment in Dean’s fantasy life. What the film is most concerned with is the sense of hope that this fantasy instills in Mei Mei and its ability to strengthen her to a point where she can save Dean from a life defined by guilt and regret.

The grey, gritty depiction of Dean’s daily struggles in prison serves the film admirably and both actors and director alike handle the tension of Mei Mei’s escalating involvement in a stolen car racket to great effect.

33 POSTCARDS’ international premiere in Shanghai has particular significance as the first completed film as part of the co-production treaty signed between the Australian and Chinese national film groups. Politically the film is neutral, as one might expect from any Western co-production with the party-regulated industry of China; though this is not necessarily to its detriment, given the strength and universal appeal of the story at its centre. As one of the few films entirely sold-out at the Syndey International Film Festival earlier this month and with Zhu Lin’s recent win of the New Asian Star award drawing further publicity in China, 33 POSTCARDS comes freighted with great expectations from both its producing countries and seems likely to set the standard by which the success of future Sino-Australian co-production will be judged. With both industries struggling to find their place in an increasingly brutal international film market, 33 POSTCARDS is an appropriate first entry in the canon of works produced under the industries’ treaty and one can hope that its irrepressible optimism will somehow resonate beyond the film’s closing credits.

>>> >>> No second film review today because of a projection cock-up that meant the second (and most frequently used) band of English subtitles on the digital print of Alberto Seixas Santos’ TIME BENDS was cropped from the screen. While I would love to say that my Portuguese was good enough to follow the dialog of this darkly composed drama, I spent what I saw of the film in the dark (both literally and figuratively). In lieu of a full review, you can see the trailer below.

^ TIME BENDS trailer (Portuguese – no subs)

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  1. Pingback: Bye Bye SIFF 2011 | FOEC

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