France, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 84 mins.
Director: Song Chuan 宋川.
French-financed, dramatically inept story, set in rural Yunnan, is typical Mainland indie fare.
Yunnan province, southern China, the present day. Qiaoqiao (Liang Xueqin), who lives and works in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, visits her parents (Wang Laowu, Zhou Lin) in a remote village in the hills. Bored, she lounges around and gets to know Li Wei (Zhang Yu), the good-for-nothing son of a man (Hong Chang) who supplies sweetcorn spirit 包谷酒 to her mother’s hole-in-the-wall provisions shop. They start a relationship, and Qiaoqiao stays on in the village. She phones a girlfriend in Guangzhou, with whom she’s starting a business, to tell her she’ll be delayed. However, Qiaoqiao becomes fed up with Li Wei’s lack of attention beyond sex, and by him not pampering her enough with money and gifts. She becomes friendly with a hairdresser, who seems to understand her better and is planning to move to Guangzhou to work in a shop his cousin has set up. But then everything goes awry when Li Wei’s father is fined RMB8,000 for selling fake sweetcorn spirit and Li Wei himself catches Qiaoqiao and the hairdresser together.
Ciao Ciao 巧巧 isn’t as grim and unyielding as Huan Huan 欢欢 (2011), the first feature of writer-director Song Chuan 宋川, but it’s just as static and dramatically inept. Again centring on petty rural adultery and corruption, and again set in Song’s home province of Yunnan, Ciao Ciao initially raises hopes it’s going to be more than another bloodlessly arty exercise, thanks to the widescreen photography (with its punched-up, almost electric colours, especially the greens of the rice terraces) and the more dramatically promising set-up (a trashy daughter returns from Guangzhou to see her parents and gets involved sexually with two men). But as the characters move around within the static compositions, like sheep in a pen, and the story jumps from non-sequitur to non-sequitur, it’s clear that Song, 37, hasn’t progressed very far in the intervening five years.
An extremely pretentious score by Jean-Christophe Onno – kind of musique concrète crossed with house-music boomp-boomps – doesn’t help, and is very different from his chamber-classical one for Underground Fragrance 地下•香 (2015), another French-funded indie made in China. But the main problem is Song’s script, which gives no convincing reason for the main character’s affaire with a local bum, and creates no dramatic steam around it. She’s also a hardly sympathetic character to begin with – especially in the sulky/spoiled performance by Liang Xueqin 梁雪芹 (horror Over My Dead Body 女寝还魂, 2016) – thereby giving the viewer nobody to empathise with. Performances are dull by other leads, including Zhang Yu 章宇 as the local lover, and the sex scenes (mostly shot from Zhang’s naked rear) are joyless.
The film’s English title – Ciao Ciao is pronounced almost the same as the lead’s name, Qiaoqiao – is clever but distracting, making it sound like an Italian movie.
Presented by Zorba Production (FR).
Script: Song Chuan. Photography: Li Xuejun. Editing: Jean-Marie Lengellé, Song Chuan. Music: Jean-Christophe Onno. Art direction: Wang Laowu. Costumes: Zhang Xiaojuan. Sound: Gao Yuan, Jules Wysocki.
Cast: Liang Xueqin (Qiaoqiao), Zhang Yu (Li Wei), Hong Chang (Li Wei’s father), Zhou Lin (Qiaoqiao’s mother), Wang Laowu (Qiaoqiao’s father), Zhou Quan (hairdresser).
Premiere: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), 10 Feb 2017.
Release: France, tba.