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The Gong show
Also, women make films in Boston and love in Spain
BY GERALD PEARY

Pity the beleaguered staff entertainment writer, who must interview (editorís orders!) each weekís fizzy personality in whatever hapless movie scoots into the multiplex. In contrast, "Film Culture" is free to be snooty, pledged, dear readers, to converse only with actors and directors working at the top of their talents, in films of genuine merit. So what to do when the great Gong Li, the most fabulous Chinese actress of them all, the brilliant star of Zhang Yimouís Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern (1991), can be interviewed at the 2003 Toronto Film Festival but is there to discuss the schmaltzy and confusing Zhou Yuís Train?

"Film Culture" honor be damned! I raced to Gongís hotel room for a tête-à-tête. Iíd straight-face a discussion about Sun Zhouís wobbly film in which Gong plays two women, Xiu and Zhou Yu, one of whom (Xiu) in the present on a train spies on the other (Zhou Yu) in the past on the same train. Both seem to be shuttling twice a week between far-off Chinese stops to visit the same rural-village poet lover, Chen Qing (Tony Leung Ka Fai).

Maybe at least Gong could help unravel this perplexing story? What could she explain about Xiu, the woman doing the spying? "Sheís Chen Qingís girlfriend two years later. Sheís read his novel, and sheís trying to enter his world. In the very beginning of the movie, Xiu was a city woman with her own business and career, the owner of a bar. She has a sharp personality. Before I started this film, I didnít understand Xiu very much. Why should she go back and forth on a train? I thought that was tiresome. But the director of the movie took me to a bar and introduced me to people he knew. When I observed girls in the bar and talked to them, I understood."

But thereís no such bar in the movie!

"It was cut out in post-production."

Okay. Well, is it possible that thereís really just one woman, that Zhou Yu exists only in Xiuís imagination?

Gong: "You can have two interpretations. Zhou Yu is a mirror for Xiu, the shadow of Xiu. Thereís a communication between them. But Zhou Yu is not an illusion. Sheís a real person."

Zhou Yu (assuming she exists) is a painter in a ceramics factory. Doesnít her pottery count at all? Is love all that matters?

Gong: "Thatís a new question for me. I think itís right that Ďlove onlyí is a mistake, though the film is not about other aspects of these two womenís lives. Although itís worthwhile to love, and to give love is great, a person is also a social being. She must communicate with other people."

HEREíS A GREAT FREE EVENT: Women in Film and Video New Englandís Summer Fest, which screens this Saturday, August 28, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the BPLís Rabb Lecture Hall. Itís a generous sampling of work by talented WIFVNE members, who will be in attendance for a discussion. I can certainly recommend the two films that Iíve seen. Signe Taylorís "Greetings from Iraq" is a prescient documentary made a decade ago showing children suffering and dying in Baghdad hospitals because of the cynical America-led sanctions against Saddam Hussein. Kris Britt Montagís "Packrat" is a courageous, compelling personal documentary about Montagís late father, who had a pathological need to collect and hoard all kinds of clutter, turning the house into a junk-pile inferno. Montag goes beyond her own family to talk to psychologists and also to others who have to live with a disturbed packrat. (The latter could be your new college roommate!)

IMAGINE OLD LEAR gathering his flock and saying, "Goneril, Regan, Cordelia . . . Iím gay!" Something that preposterous kicks off A mi madre le gustan las mujeres/My Mother Likes Women, a banal, conventional Spanish comedy from Inés Paris and Daniela Fejerman at the MFA September 1 through 5. Three adult daughters gather for the birthday of their concert-pianist mama, Sofía (Rosa Maria Sardà), and she springs on them her new love, a young Czech woman named Eliska (Eliska Sirová) with whom she plays Schubert duets. The daughters are shocked, suddenly homophobic, because itís their dear mother whoís a lesbian. The most upset daughter is the movieís ditsy heroine, Elvira (Leonor Watling), an Annie HallĖlike bundle of confusions and neuroses about work and her own sexuality. This mixed-up Cordelia can count on her divorced daddy, who reads to her the poems of Sappho and gives vapid advice: "Be brave enough to be yourself." The gals try to sever the relationship of mother and lover, but then thereís obnoxious happy endings for all on the heels of a gratuitous trip to Prague that smells of a Spanish-Czech co-production deal.


Issue Date: August 27 - September 2, 2004
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