CANNES -- In Yin Lichuan's debut "The Park," she seamlessly blended warm, interactive characters into a regional background which she captured with painterly flair. This makes "Knitting" all the more disappointing as her aloof observation of migrants who form a love-hate threesome is as monotonous as the activity which gives the film its English title. Reeling off traits recognizable in umpteen fest-bound independent films from China -- such as a snail's pace, minimalist plot and dialogue, and deliberate muffling of emotions -- Yin is several stitches short of creating a work of originality.
The film's pat notion of female bonding will gain popularity with a certain intellectual or self-professed feminist crowd. Theatrical release by CTV International in France is planned for December.
"Knitting's "Chinese title "Cowherd and Weaving Maiden" alludes to a legend of star-crossed romance. It adds a layer of irony to this cynical look at a modern relationship buffeted less by destiny than mercenary motives and market forces. Li Daping (Zhang Yi) and Chen Jin (Lu Yulai) are a couple from northern backwaters barely making it in the laissez-faire south. Out of Chen's shady past comes Zhang Haili (Yan Bingyan), who treats their dive like her own pied-a-terre. She steamrolls over Li's self-esteem and flirts brazenly with Chen, enticing him with get-rich schemes. Chen plays the women off each other to his own advantage until a reversal of fortune brings shifts of loyalties.
The sexual vibes between Chen and Zhang, who may or may not be old flames; and Li's inexplicably stubborn attachment to Chen invest their relationship with intriguing ambiguity. But Yin's direction is too subdued to enkindle the frisson that a menage-a-trois should generate.
The rivalry between dowdy Li and catty Zhang has ample room for ensemble acting and sizzling drama. Yet neither character is given scenes to articulate complex feelings of jealousy, pride and insecurity. One sulks, the other nags. Dialogue, if any, is forced. The lack of fire in their animosity makes their later friendship seem arbitrary and artificial.
Li's compulsive knitting during the muggy summer is a muddled metaphor not worth deciphering.
Beijing United Image Communication Co/Beijing Ediam Communication/Beijing Yadistar Production Co.
Cast: Zhang Yi, Yan Bingyan, Lu Yulai.
Screenwriter-director: Yin Lichuan.
Producer: Jiao Aimin.
Director of photography: Liu Yonghong.
Art director: Lou Pan .
Music: Zhang Weiwei.
Costume designer: Feng Yan.
Editor: Yan Tao.
Sales: Rezo Films.
No rating, 100 minutes.