welcome to crazy weeks -- the fall releases have trickled away, the Christmas movies are yet to come, so there's a two-week window during which indie distributors engage in an orgy of shelf-clearing of films they're contractually obligated to open.Suzhou River arrives from the 2000 festival circuit with some prizes -- a grand prix and best actress from Paris, a FIPRESCI prize from Vienna -- and it's pretty good. It plays like a pocket version of Vertigo, with Xun Zhou in the dual role of Meimei and Moudan, two women (maybe) who become the object of a motorcycle courier's obsession.
But writer/director Ye Lou hampers himself with an annoying formal device: much of the film is shot from the point of view of a videographer who sees the entire world through his camera, and the camera thus becomes a character.
It didn't work in Lady In The Lake, and it doesn't work here. On the other hand, the director makes full use of the gritty scenic possibilities of Shanghai, and "gritty" is the operative word. Shooting in digital video, he captures the shimmer of neon on rain-slick streets and gives us a mise en scène that conveys clutter without seeming art-directed.
A couple of reviews compare Suzhou River to the films of Wong Kar-wai (In The Mood For Love), but I don't see it. Wong is a formalist and aesthete -- In The Mood For Love is less film than Fabergé egg.
Suzhou River is the film of someone working fast and loose, who balances the formal conceit of the film's premise by finding a certain hand-held lyricism in the filthy river that flows through Shanghai and in the doomed romanticism of characters who will hurl themselves into it for love.
SUZHOU RIVER directed and written by Ye Lou, produced by Philippe Bober and An Nai, with Xun Zhou, Hongshen Jia, Zhongkai Hua and Anlian Yao. 80 minutes. An Essential Film production. A Strand release. Opens Friday (November 30) at the Bloor. Limited run. For dates and times, see Rep Cinemas, page 112. Rating: NNNN