Director Quan Ling | 2013 | China | 87 mins | East Coast Premiere
SCREENING: Sunday July 28, 2013 | 1:00 pm
Forgetting to Know You (Mo Sheng in Chinese) follows a young family struggling to stay together in a small village near Chongqing. Chen Xuesong (Tao Hong) works at a convenience store, supporting her young daughter Yuanyuan and her husband Cai Weihang (Guo Xiaodong), who lost his carpentry job after his company declared bankruptcy.
While Xuesong stresses over family – the health of her husband and mother-in-law, the whereabouts of her daughter – and a young admirer, Weihang tries to gather enough support for a new business to employ himself and his out-of-work colleagues. To relieve her husband’s obvious burdens, Xuesong approaches a wealthy old lover about a business loan for Weihang. Under these strains of infidelity and financial instability, the bonds of their marriage begin to bend, even against Xuesong and Weihang’s attempts to support each other.
This is Quan Ling’s first film, and it’s a stunning debut about a bleak subject (Zhangke Jia, the acclaimed director of The World and Unknown Pleasures, was Quan’s producer on the film). Despite the seemingly mundane subject matter of the film – a wife scolding her husband’s sleeping habits, a man watching TV, a daughter and grandmother blowing out birthday candles – Quan still manages to keep an unexpectedly frenetic pace of action.
When Weihang’s former boss refuses to give his former employees the thousands of yuans he owes them in back-wages, Weihang delves into a drunken rage, and leaves, with a meat cleaver, in the middle of the night to confront his boss again. Against the scenes of Weihang’s wild rage and the gritty realism of the cinematography, the quieter, less eventful moments of the film become eerier, stranger. After that scene, you’re not sure what to expect, and that’s a great thing because Forgetting to Know You manages to break through the stale mold of films portraying stifling familial obligations and gradually imploding relationships.
One of the reasons the audience is kept on edge is Guo Xiaodong’s performance as Weihang, which is nearly flawless. Even as you watch Weihang make idiotic choices to the most harrowing conclusions, Guo commits to every movement – every swing of a meat cleaver at his wife’s head, every curse at his former boss. It’s unpredictable, and sometimes frightening, to watch this film move along the inertia of Weihang’s emotional arc.
Another one of the film’s highlights is how Quan focuses on the change of public spaces in post-recession China. Malls have homeless people sleeping under escalators and foragers blatantly rummaging through garbage cans while public walkways are full of salespeople pushing brochures and products onto passersby. The brief sketches of impoverished life in the film emphasizes how the issue of unemployment works its way into the degradation of Weihang’s confidence, and the anger and frustration that festers from it.
For a film about how a family becomes estranged through the stresses of materialism, unemployment, and infidelity, Forgetting to Know You enlivens familiar scenery with strong emotional performances, particularly from Guo Xiaodong as Weihang, and a scrupulous eye about the rapid commercialization of public spaces. Watch this film with family and loved ones – and hold them close.