MIFF: The Fourth Portrait (2010)

5 Aug

As the title suggests, this will be a fragmented story, perhaps one of identity and isolation.  And so it begins delving head first into the confused and lonely world of a child.  Xiang (Bi Xiao Hai) sits alone waiting for his father to take his last breath, the subtle image if his placing a paper napkin over the man’s face, as if not to visualize his passing, makes one cringe with sadness.  I felt the urge to run to the screen to hold him, but obviously unless this was a Woody Allen film, such a thing would not be permissible.  It does not improve, the beginning that is, as director Mong-Hong Chung, makes us watch this lonely child walk home to wash his father’s only appropriate funeral attire by a rush of water on the street.

Do not be fooled, although his first portrait is littered with solitude and uncertainty, this little boy is nothing less than a fueled character.  His story takes us through uncertainty first, as he struggles to find food, yet leads us to a friendship with a school janitor that provides him with guidance and love.  A grandfather figure that takes him, to his long ago exited mother,but keeps him close, shadowed with wisdom and support.  It is almost a pity that there is no portrait of this man, for it is he who truly shapes Xiang’s choices.

He finds instead a sort of camaraderie with a middle-aged petty criminal, who takes him on raids and tells him about dreams of escape.  This is perhaps one of the first times this child has known happiness, so we forgive him lapping it all up.  And it does, in retrospect, offer him the opportunity to get away from his mother’s tormented house.  This man, or part of him, gains the second portrait.  Leaving us with certain questions as to Xiang’s ideas of idenity.

The third portrait is of his dead brother’s ghost, tormented , walking his path alone.  This creates a form of mission for Xiang, as he becomes almost detective like trying to understand the true fate of his older brother, and in turn the isolation and underlying hatred brewing within his mother’s house.

Xiang’s journey is slightly frisky as he moves through the paces of sorting out his place in life.  However, it is the mind of a child, what in each moment matters most, and what provides him with gratification and shelter.

Score: 7/10



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