We Went To Wonderland

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Edinburgh International Film Festival

EDINBURGH -- East meets West with quietly droll results in "We Went To Wonderland," the second feature-length film by London-based Chinese filmmaker/novelist Xiaolu Guo. While her 2006 debut, "How Is Your Fish Today?," spellblindingly combined documentary and fiction, this time she takes a more straightforwardly documentary approach to record her elderly parents' first visit to Europe. "Fish" frustratingly didn't obtain the exposure and acclaim a film of such quality deserves. "Wonderland," a more small-scale and uneven work, looks set for a similar future at festivals and on the small screen but confirms Guo is a name to watch.

She performs multiple duties here including camera operator, dispensing with a tripod to facilitate the close-up observation of her folks. They're very much a "chalk and cheese" duo: earthy, chatterbox mother HeYing and tall, skinny father XiuLin, the latter mute since a life-saving cancer operation 13 years before. The first half of the film sees them going about their daily business -- the mornings always starting with graceful but energetic calisthenics in their daughter's compact Hackney flat, venturing out for the occasional journey around the London area. Just before the 50-minute mark, the trio embark on a more ambitious trip through France to Italy, where HeYing is underwhelmed by the splendors of Rome. "It just feels old,' she sniffs.

A talented artist who spent a decade in a Mao-era labor camp, her husband scribbles comments on a notepad, which are translated via titles in the middle of the screen. More dramatically, what we take to be his inner thoughts ("2012 Olympics? Here?!") are occasionally displayed, flashing on and off the screen -- an amusing if slightly heavy-handed way for his daughter to assert her authorial/editorial presence. Though never appearing on camera, XiaoLu chips in with the occasional comment or question, but is mostly a silent, unacknowledged witness to her parents' doings.

These are presented in black-and-white DV via low-end equipment. In several sequences, the technical rough edges are something of a distraction. Although there are clues that the soundtrack -- a key element of which is Philippe Ciompi's haunting score -- is the result of careful manipulation, the picture often feels like an artistically ambitious kind of home-movie.

Production company: Perspectives Films. Director: Xiaolu Guo. Screenwriter: Xiaolu Guo. Producers: Xiaolu Guo, Philippe Ciompi. Director of Photography: Xiaoli Guo. Music: Philippe Ciompi. Editor: Philippe Ciompi. Sales: Perspective Films, London. No rating, 75 minutes.
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