>>> You Can’t Go Home Again: the films of Luo Li

Young director flourishes

YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN: THE FILMS OF LUO LI from Thursday to Sunday (June 11 to 14) at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King West). tiff.net. Rating: NNNN

Being exposed to new talent and watching it flourish is one of the best parts of my job. And thanks to the liveliness of Toronto’s film scene, over the last six years I’ve seen Luo Li carve out a niche for himself as a gifted, playful storyteller.

TIFF Cinematheque is celebrating Li – born in Wuhan, China, educated at York University and currently living in Hamilton – with You Can’t Go Home Again: The Films Of Luo Li, assembling the four features and three shorts he’s made to date. It’s a very solid body of work.

Li’s first feature, I Went To The Zoo The Other Day (Thursday, 6:15 pm, plus early shorts Fly and Ornithology) is a study of two people working some stuff out on a day trip to the Toronto Zoo, their conversations intercut with black-and-white footage of animals and spectators. It’s delicate and quietly moving, and Li gives us the space to suss out relationships and motivations. I felt like I’d stumbled into other people’s lives.

Rivers And My Father (Friday, 6:30 pm, plus Li’s student short Stills) marks an evolution for the director, as he trades in the observational aspects of his debut for something more overtly constructed. Shooting in nostalgic black-and-white, Li creates a sort of enhanced version of his family’s history, reaching back from contemporary Toronto to the banks of the Yangtze River.

The reflective mood carries echoes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s beguiling Syndromes And A Century, or Jia Zhang-ke’s recent docu-fictions Still Life and I Wish I Knew, but Li isn’t borrowing from those directors so much as exploring a common theme in his own particular style.

Li’s third feature, Emperor Visits The Hell (Saturday, 6 pm), is an even more pronounced departure. It’s a fantasy, transposing elements of the classic Ming dynasty novel Journey To The West into present-day China and following a government functionary (Li Wen) into the underworld to negotiate the release of a criminal (Mai Dian). It’s sort of like a modern-dress Shakespeare adaptation, with gangsters and bureaucrats replacing warriors and feudal lords.

Fresh from its premiere at the Images Festival in April, Li Wen At East Lake (Sunday, 6:15 pm) is something of a return to form, taking the star of Emperor Visits The Hell and inserting him, as himself, into a fictional narrative about redevelopment and strange goings-on in China’s Hubei province.

Li will be present for introductions and Q&As at all the screenings, and to introduce a carte blanche selection of Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped Thursday at 8:45 pm. You should see that, too.

normw@nowtoronto.com | @normwilner

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