Does filming oneself and one’s own partner acting as non-professional actors equal documentary filming? Does exhibiting the process of fiction-making, or the making-of of fiction, equal non-fiction cinema? What if the non-professional acting finally gets an influence of your daily non-acting? Is reality also the result of our exercises in fictionalising reality? If two non-professional actors say that they stop acting when the camera continues to record, did they “really” stop acting? Is any exhibited making-of of a film, even the making-of of the making-of of the film, potentially fictional? Would the fictionality of the making-of be more real than the reality of the fiction which the making-of refers to? What if a dying man or a two year-old child participate in an explicitly staged fiction? Can they be prepared enough, manipulated enough, in order to not bring some non-fictional reality into fiction? If the explicitly staged fiction displays the drama of a non-professional actress being manipulated by the rules of acting, does this mean that the non-professional actress is less manipulated, in reality, because she accepts being manipulated in order to express through her acting how bad it would be to be a manipulated non-professional actress? Does a meta-cinematic reflection rise when we realise that the ethical questions discussed in the drama coincide with the classical ethical questions of documentary filmmaking, like the question of filming and, in a way, seeking for suffering? If the pact between the non-professional actors would be to perform their own real life, would the non-scripted moments of improvisation go beyond the limit of their acting domain and show an effective non-fiction? Which should be the position of the spectator when, the explicit ambiguity between fiction and non-fiction notwithstanding, the highly credible dialogues make us suspend our disbeliefs? Should we resist the suspension of disbelief only because the realistic dialogue of a couple stops at once with the couple revealing their acting? When the non-professional actors, a couple themselves, start then to behave as if in their acting performances, should their previous dialogues be taken as even more credible or even more staged?
All these questions arose in me during the viewing of Xiaozhen Wang’s two-hours long Love Poem. Even if the film is not devoid of genuinely dramatic moments, which we experience when we surrender to the cinematic suspension of disbelief, its main filmic experience coincides with our own intellectual inquiry on fiction and non-fiction. The climax of the interlocking layers of fiction and non-fiction comes in the last scene of the film, where the filmmaker takes the initiative to stop the camera, but this scene will confirm the impossibility of attempting to disentangle fiction and non-fiction. Then music will appear. Yes, Love Poem is mainly intellectual cinema, and I cannot but immediately add: so what? For in speaking of “intellectual cinema”, I already feel the pressure, today, of having to defend its legitimate existence against the anti-intellectualism that seems to loom among film scholars and cinephiles… Cinema has told, tells, and will always tell the story of the reflection on its own dispositive and fundamental issues.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: April 26, 2020
Love Poem | Film | Xiaozhen Wang | CHN-Hong Kong-SAR 2020 | 114’ | Visions du Réel 2020, Burning Lights