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The Fragile House

The Fragile House

[…] The “figure” of the house triumphs over the persons that inhabit it: there are no close-ups on the persons, which seem rather to succumb to the dream, the burden and the symbol of the house.

[…] «The Fragile House» is a tentative (re-)composition of the sounds, images, and times of a Chinese world that is fundamentally decomposed.

[…] Li Zin’s experiments with moving images are not just the expressions of a young filmmaker that has discovered the potentialities of cinema; they are (also) the necessary path to make sense of a world that cannot be expressed through a linear tale.

«I am young and I want to explore all the possibilities in doing a film» – this was Li Zin’s answer to my question during the Q&A after the world premiere of his The Fragile House in Locarno. My question focused on the free use of the sounds: not only the use of non-synchronous sounds but also of sounds that have nothing to do with the images, like the recurrent sound of the waves, for example. It is an expressive use, here, that does not seem to refer to the inner lives of the characters, and rather accompanies specific moments depicted in the story.

This occurs entirely within urban landscapes, with a predominance of interior spaces: apartments, dormitories, new buildings under construction – and the sea clearly constitutes an element of contrast, a way out of the urban busy life. The “figure” of the house triumphs over the persons that inhabit it: there are no close-ups on the persons, which seem rather to succumb to the dream, the burden and the symbol of the house. They suffer a life that goes faster than their capabilities, and this velocity erodes the values of the family and pushes everyone to be out of money. The Fragile House depicts a world that breaks apart, that appears to be destined to fail, a world where the individual is not able to emerge but merely to drift – like ChaoChao’s frittering away of his time by playing videogames or reading novels instead of studying.

Li Zin’s choice of not using any close-up is then perfectly justifiable, as it is his experimental use of different frame formats. The image on the screen is constantly cut, reshaped, selected, as if it is impossible to show the whole picture, as if a comprehensive picture of the world would not make any sense. We need to focus on some details; we need to search for the fragment, perhaps because Li Zin’s world is in fact that fragmented. The Fragile House is a tentative (re-)composition of the sounds, images, and times of a Chinese world that is fundamentally decomposed. The transformation of society, of the urban landscape, of the family and its values, cannot be conveyed through a linear narrative; a naturalist tale would probably sound meaningless. Li Zin’s experiments with moving images are not just the expressions of a young filmmaker that has discovered the potentialities of cinema; they are (also) the necessary path to make sense of a world that cannot be expressed through a linear tale.

For the viewer of The Fragile House, the film provides a particular experience of distance and proximity. The highly constructed filmic language cannot but keep us at a certain distance from the story that is told, because we cannot rely on a subjective perspective within the story, but the apparent compositional character of the film will push us to reflect upon Li Zin’s and our own subjectivity. When reality does not offer coherence anymore, it is up to us, as individuals, to create a new meaning for it. Therefore, for China, this seems to be the good news that goes unavoidably together with the bad news of a world running too fast for the persons to retain their humanity. A society that challenges humanity is not only destined for destruction, but also fated to self-reinvention.

The Fragile House ends in another season. The problems appear to be slightly lessened, the tempo slightly more relaxed. The image now is playing with a black-and-white aesthetic – time to recall the natural rhythm of the waves at sea…

First published: August 13, 2018

The Fragile House – Hai Shang Cheng Shi | Film | Li Zin | Locarno Festival 2018, Signs of Life

Signs of Life Award Electronic-Art.Foundation at Locarno Festival 2018

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