It’s never a good sign when you are hoping a film is about to end, that this scene will be the final one. Not that Kaili Blues is terrible, there is a lot to recommend about it, it just seemed to get lost halfway through and then keep going. And going.
Set in China, at first it seems a straightforward story. Chen has been released from prison and his brother Crazy Face has a son, Weiwei, whom he neglects. Chen is a doctor sharing a practice with an elderly woman and he wants to help Weiwei. Crazy Face says he has sold him, sending Chen off on a journey to a remote riverside village.
The story is interspersed with rather beautiful poetry – the first-time director, Gan Bi, is a poet – and early on we read the Diamond Sutra, both indicating that this story may perhaps be a spiritual rumination rather than a literal narrative. It seems to be a poetical rumination on time and memory and regret.
About halfway through, there is a rather spectacular single shot, following Chen on a motorbike, crisscrossing paths with multiple characters, veering off to follow some of them but always returning to Chen. It lasts perhaps half an hour and is admirable in its naturalism and technical adroitness. It seems to create a different movie though; where the rest is character-driven, lyrical and slightly magical, this technique seems grounded, albeit gracefully, in the mundanity of reality.
I actually missed the very last scene – I couldn’t take any more and I needed the loo. According to my much more hard-core MIFF buddy Alex, it had a nice, neat finality that brought the magical elements of the film back together, emphasising that, when it comes to the mind, time is not linear.
Bechdel test – pass