Review: Lovers on the Road

The mini film festival Visible Secrets: Hong Kong’s Women Filmmakers is currently showing at the Watershed in Bristol. I saw Lovers on the Road on Monday 25 January 2010.

The cinema is small and comfortable and there are only a few of us waiting for the movie to start. The movie ticket was £3.50 and I am the only person in the second row. My jacket is flung over the seat to my right, my bag is to my left and I am comfortable in my chair and ready to drift away. Midlake by Roscoe plays before the movie starts and it seems as if there could be no place more mellow than this room.

The lights dim, the curtains slide open and a girl is packing a suitcase in a room that has a garish pastel blue wall. She’s harried and frenzied and a silent young man stands behind her. There have been no trailers yet so I assume that this is a cheaply made anti-piracy promotion of some sort. Nope. This is the movie and it takes some effort to suspend disbelief due to the quality of the production.

There is little communication and the two main characters easily depict the pleasant lack of intimacy while indicating a yearning for something more. By easily, I mean they act as if they are in a high school production of a play. I feel as if I can almost read the stage directions: [put arms around Lei] [Lei stands still] [Lei shrugs off arms and walks away]. The acting is disjointed and comforting at the same time. I slip into its Beijing pace now and then but occasionally I am jolted back to my seat in the Bristol cinema.

I find parts of it charming but I can’t tell if certain scenes are meant to be funny on purpose. There is a security guard who buys and eats an ice cream and fans himself,  I assume, to indicate [show don’t tell] that the temperature is hot in Beijing. Not quite sure what the heat adds to the story and Lei’s t-shirt and shorts worn throughout the 75 minutes could have been enough of a depiction.

The theme is detachment and estrangement and there is little music to the soundtrack, instead there is mostly a buzzing noise of constant city sounds. The couple live in a one bedroom apartment which has a broken window on which Lei slices her hand. There are scenes of her alone in a similar way to Lost in Translation with Scarlett Johansson, although while the latter was actively depicted in a sexual way [see opening scene of Scarlett’s bottom] Lei is female but not selling her femininity.

One of the [perhaps] comic moments occurs when a woman drags her into a hair dresser’s and  she quickly runs out when a man appears with scissors. She walks back in a few moments later and has her long tresses cut down to how her hair was when she first met her boyfriend. Starting afresh and all that.

The physical contact is as detached as the relationship between the characters and the only overt friendliness for the main character occurs between her and a Japanese man, Masa, she meets at a bar. Lei isn’t a journalist but is interviewing people about why they moved and what they missed about the place they left. Adam from Sheffield misses the fact that people in England can drive; Masa misses the moment that has just gone.

Lei’s partner turns to her as they sit by a river and asks why doesn’t she interview him. He reminds her that he has moved away from home as well and she laughs. “I never thought of that” she replies and she listens to his answer, when she is far from him, in a hotel room. He misses her and it’s a reminder that they are out of sync. Lovers on the Road is choppy and intimate at the same time. The scenes are mostly close-ups and the characters seem to crowd the screen.

There are only three songs in the movie and one of them plays over the end credits. The silence and lack of communication prevail and the rough edges to the acting help the film’s message. Walking the same path and having the same experiences with someone doesn’t mean that it’s a smooth journey or even that you’re sharing it. “You always miss the things I notice” she says and while he fails to respond she is off on a trip with someone else.

I wonder if the ‘visible secret’  is that we walk alone even when we are together? I’m not sure but the movie was thought provoking, my evening was enjoyable and the trip home was close but not lonely.
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