Sunday, September 25, 2011

TIFF 2011: Xiaolu Guo's UFO IN HER EYES

TIFF 2011 was a great festival for science fiction finds, and this was another favorite, a Chinese entry of the low-fi sci-fi kind with a lot of interesting twists and subplots and surprises.

It was also, for me, a year for documentary filmmakers trying their hands at fictional narratives, for the most part successfully; Xiaolu Guo is well-established as same and must have some rocking international connections because she got her craziest, most off-the-wall possible wish for casting this film: for her Steve Fossett-analog western character, she got crazy German star Udo Kier. And she got him to sing. Drunkenly, magnificently, and gloriously badly.

UFO in her Eyes is not primarily about that character, though, but about the woman who rescues him from snakebite after having some strange encounters of her own. Kwok Yun (played by a previously unknown-to-me actress, Ke Shi, with an earthy, funky earnestness that made her a joy to watch), middle aged and single but still attractive and interesting enough to turn a few married heads, has come from a furtive outdoor tryst, found a strange crystal, peered through it and seen in the sky something she could not explain. The film offers a lot of possibilities of what that was, but since the story is very much from Kwok Yun's uneducated perspective, we viewers are left to grapple with them ourselves even as the inhabitants of her tiny village do when she shows up with an injured American and a wild story.

The resulting narrative is as much an allegory for the transformation of China's economy from Maoist communism to state capitalism as anything else. The storytelling gets split perhaps a bit too much -- a lot of secondary characters get a lot more screen time than most directors would give them -- but the impact of Kwok Yun's strange story is what drives all as her village and its forceful, daffy Chief (another remarkable Chinese actress whose name I'm having trouble tracking down; she steals every scene she is in even when she isn't being funny) see an influx of money and opportunity -- and government pressure to change, pressure some resist with somewhat tragic results.

I look forward to seeing more of Xiaolu Guo's work, to more of Ke Shi's, and more low-fi sci-fi (which I did get more of in the festival -- stay tuned!). If you have a chance to see this strange bit of filmmaking, do not hesitate.

UFO In Her Eyes (mp3)

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