Zuo You (In Love We Trust)
BERLIN -- By making "Zuo You" (In Love We Trust), it's almost as if Wang Xiaoshuai tests his directorial art by taking preposterous soap opera material to see if he could give it an execution as refined, subdued and universally resonant as possible.
The story by Wang ("Shanghai Dreams"), about a divorced and happily remarried couple who try to have a child in order to get a bone marrow transplant for their leukemia-afflicted daughter, passes the test with honors. However, while his four main actors deliver diamond performances and the undercurrents of their conflicting feelings are perfectly calibrated, Wang's habit of keeping narrative rhythm at an even keel, the dour colors and the deliberate muffling of emotional intensity make the overall cinematic result a bit anemic.
Wang's high-brow art house fans will continue to applaud the European sensibility of his film language, which observes China's social ambiance with the coolness and precision of a surgical knife. The film's intriguing narrative premise, highly contemporary Chinese issues of divorce and one-child policy, and its classic themes of marital and parental relationships might help it cross over to the popular domestic market.
The original title, "Zuo You," which means "left, right," is an allusion to a Chinese proverbial expression, equivalent in meaning to Hobson's choice between a rock and a hard place. The first two acts -- which depict the family lives of real estate agent Mei Zhu (Liu Weiwei) and her designer husband Lao Xie (Cheng Taisheng) and Mei's building contractor ex-husband Xiao Lu (Zhang Jiayi) and his flight attendant wife Dong Fan (Yu Nan) -- are bookended by the Chinese characters for "left" and "right," respectively, symbolizing their separateness. This sets the stage neatly for the later acts, when Mei's desperate scheme to ask Xiao to artificially inseminate her makes them enter each other's homes and trespass personal limits.
The mild-mannered Mei is juxtaposed to Dong, a confident urban woman who fights for the right to personal happiness over obligation. Ironically, Mei turns out to be stubborn and unyielding like the courier in Wang's "Beijing Bicycle," while Dong, whose own wish for a baby has been put on hold, displays emotional elasticity out of love for her husband and compassion for a dying child. Equally ironic are the reactions of the men, with Lao showing genuine devotion to his step-daughter while Xiao is motivated more by guilt than fatherly love and is easily browbeaten by two strong women.
The shooting is all done in real locations in a faceless Beijing, with interactions taking place in construction sites and drab tenements. It is a deliberate parallel that Xiao's construction business is stalled, while Mei fails to rent out a particular apartment, which eventually serves as the neutral site of the ex-couple's "reunion." The camera often pauses at doorways where the protagonists hesitate to enter -- visually symbolizing their wish to close the door on the past and fear of crossing a new threshold.
This takes us to the heart of the film, which asks the pertinent questions of what makes a home and how one defines family in our modern age.
ZUO YOU (IN LOVE WE TRUST)
Presented by Qing Hong Debo/WXS Film Production, Stellar Megamedia, DUOJI Production, Film Distribution
Screenwriter-director: Wang Xiaoshuai
Producers: Huang Bin, Isabelle Glachant
Director of photography: Wu Di
Art director: Wu Dong; Music: Dou Wei
Costume designer: Zhu Limin
Editor: Yang Hongyu
Mei Zhu: Liu Weiwei
Xiao Lu: Zhang Jiayi
Dong Fan: Yu Nan
Lao Xie: Cheng Taisheng
Running time -- 115 minutes
No MPAA rating