Jiang Wen: “their narrations are always broken”
More Jiang Wen! I’m currently reading “From the Glaring Sun to Flying Bullets: Aesthetics and Memory in the ‘Post-’ Era Chinese Cinema” by Xiao Liu in the collection China’s iGeneration: Cinema and Moving Image Culture for the Twenty-First Century.
I really liked this section on his film The Sun Also Rises. I’ve put Jiang Wen’s extended quote in bold:
While reconstructing lost memories through sensual images, Jiang Wen is well aware that any reconstruction is necessarily incomplete and mediated. To a certain extent, the crazy mother signifies the incomprehensibility of the past from the perspective of the son, as Jiang Wen explains:
‘Why does the mad mother sing poems on the roof of her house? [That is because] she has an inner world that cannot be easily conveyed to her son. Any parents have their own stores of being thrown into mad love, and for some reason, they seldom tell their own love stories to their children. Their narrations are always broken. Their love stories may be conveyed around various objects passed down, but even so, the story the father told might be different with the one from the mother.’
Here ‘madness,” instead of being perceived as abnormal, indicates unavoidable incomprehensibility and limited accessibility of latter generations to recover and recapitulate the past they scarcely knew. And stories are contingent upon objects passed down by their parents and inevitably fragmentary. The centrality of objects in the recollections of the past brings our attention to the various particular objects in The Sun that connect subtly to the innermost world of the characters: the deceased husband’s dilapidated copy of What is to be Done?, a utopian novel on the subject of reforming the institutions of marriage and work by the Russian writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky; a stone house in the forest that holds items from an eclipsed era; and letters full of broken sentences and inexplicable jokes. These objects are posited at the boundary of reality and the realm of dream, blurring the line between the two.
This is best seen in the pair of shoes that emerge directly from the mad mother’s dream: beside the shining rail tracks among flowers lies a pair of exquisitely embroidered cloth shoes in the shape of a fish. Next, the bare feet of a woman emerge from rippling water, and soon the feet are walking on a damp stone lane. As the camera shifts to focus on the pair of shoes in the woman’s hands, it gradually reveals the face of the woman to be the mad mother. These shots are fluidly bound together, with no distinction between dream and ‘real’ life, as if the mother retrieves the shoes directly from her oneiric world, as she tells her son: ‘I dreamed the shoes. When I opened my eyes, I saw them.’ When she stands in front of the a shop counter, the camera focuses on the hands on the table. Instead of those of the salesman or saleswoman, the hands on the other side of the table are a pair of infant’s hands, innocently knocking on the table as if impatiently waiting for the mother to pick up her shoes. The capricious joke Jiang Wen plays here immediately distances the scene from the buying-and-selling transactions of commodities. The pair of shoes is an inalienable possession with its own particularity, invested with the mother’s fantasies and innermost feelings. They are also inalienable because they are not exchangeable and replaceable commodities. After their mysterious disappearance, the son is never able to but a similar pair for his mother.
Again in Jiang Wen’s work, memory is intensely personal and history all but incomprehensible. This also relates, I think, to these comments he made about the film and its relationship to the (and his) mother-son dynamic.
At any rate, I thought this was interesting and wanted to share. As always, my other posts on my Jiang Wen-related reading are here under my “#Books on Baze” tag.