You know this feeling when you grow up and realize that all the monsters, zombies, and serial killers that you were afraid of are not as evil as what good citizens keep in their closets? “Red Amnesia” is a film about that from the Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai responsible for the highly-successful “Beijing Bicycle.” What starts as a dark drama about the issues of belonging for the inner-city seniors, then becomes a thriller about the effect personal politics can have on the lives of people.
Deng Meijuan is a widowed retiree who can’t find her place in contemporary Beijing. She wants to be involved in the upbringing of her young grandson but sees resistance from her older son and daughter-in-law. Her relationship with her younger son is also strained as she does not acknowledge his homosexuality. And when Deng visits her mother in the nursing home, she sees what her future will be like. Her only respite occurs during meals when she sets a plate for her late husband and tells him the events of her day. However, one day, Deng starts receiving ominous phone calls and then, strange occurrences start happening in her apartment. As she and her sons try to figure it out, Deng discovers that the reason for these incidents lies in her past. During the Cultural Revolution, she did something terrible that only her husband was aware of, and now the consequences are catching up to her.
Soon after I watched this film, I had a very lucid dream about a similar plotline happening to me. Of course, I’m too young to have mistakes of the past ripe enough for the picking. But what about my parents? Their parents? Not a day goes by that I don’t evaluate their position in political history to try and make sense of it for myself. And I feel like, in this era of reflections on the past, we’re collectively ready for this film.
“Red Amnesia” is an accomplished, incisive look into the horrors that lurk behind the facade of civility. The film is powered by its fascinating cinematography, a subtle, searing plot and the electrifying performance by Lü Zhong in the role of a woman who tries not to be a nuisance. And even though stories about skeletons in the closet are abundant, this one is a deeply original take that doesn’t just make a gimmick out of the plot point. Instead, it makes a powerful political statement.
Red Amnesia (Chuang ru zhe), 2014
Director: Xiaoshuai Wang
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