Bottom Line: Disturbing, unflattering and affecting docudrama on the perception of rape in China.Pusan International Film Festival
BUSAN, South Korea -- Pan Jianlin's docudrama about one woman's life of victimization, based on a true story, will serve as a rude awakening for anyone under the mistaken impression that accountability for rape has at last been laid at the feet of the rapist. As if to prove that nothing has changed, and that prejudices and misguided judgments of rape victims remain, "Endless Night" (screening in the New Currents program) effectively shines a light on some ugly, backward sentiments.
Because of its topic and format as a talking heads docudrama, "Endless Night" is unlikely to move beyond the festivals. That said, the spectrum of festivals where the film should garner interest is extremely broad, and therefore "Endless Night" could hang around well a long time.
Pan examines the perceptions, beliefs and reactions of average people in an unnamed Chinese city when told the story of an unnamed woman (Guan Na) and her multiple rapes. The woman (now an adult) relays the ordeal of how, beginning at 14, she was raped by a variety of men: a teacher, a fellow student, a so-called friend. The endless night of the title could be a reference to the woman's final assault (by three buddies of her latest boyfriend), or the ongoing struggle of women against oppression, and within a system that puts the onus on them to both avoid assault and prove it happened.
Intercut with her recollections of each assault, which are understated while being simultaneously graphic, are a series of academics, activists, housewives, laborers, retirees and so on, weighing in on why they think rape happens. Played by non-professional actors and acquaintances of the director, the fictionalized responses shed a hideous, glaring light on the double standards that still exist between male and female sexuality and the continuing injustices suffered by rape victims.
Nothing said in Pan's film has not been said before (sentiments such as "She must be pretty," and "After the first time, she just got used to it," abound), and their statements will resonate with audiences anywhere in the world: These aren't purely Chinese ideas.
The cast delivers pitch-perfect performances that will inspire awe, rage and bewilderment in viewers, with Guan ably carrying the film as the victim. Guan juggles resignation, fury, fear and agony in just the right amounts, making her anonymous woman believable and real. Pan's stripped down, unfussy production gathers its power steadily and quietly, marking him as a filmmaker to watch.
A Lao Pan Film Studio production
Director: Pan Jianlin
Screenwriter: Pan Jianlin
Producer: Zhang Yuan, Wang Yu
Director of photography: Pen Zhe
Production designer: Jin Zaifeng
Music: Hans Zimmer
Editor: Zhang Yifan
Woman: Guan Na
Fortune Teller: Bao Tong
Ye Lang; Yao Hui
Ye Zi: Zhao Jinge
Han Jie; Duan Zhiqing
Zhang Dun; Dong Xieying
Wu Shiyou; Song Lifang
Tang Na; Yao Shiwei
Ding Wengang: Liu Lianyuan
Wang Keyi; Ren Fuhai
Running time -- 79 minutes
No MPAA rating