Banned Chinese Filmmakers Persevere; "Suzhou River"'s Lou Ye Premieres Latest at Venice

by Anthony Kaufman
September 1, 2011 1:42 AM
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Banned filmmakers have a special place in the hearts of journalists (and even their home countries' governments).

Filmmakers like Jafar Panahi ("The White Balloon") in Iran, or Lou Ye ("Suzhou River"), in China, have continued to try to make movies within their culturally oppressive countries, and that tension between the artist's goals and the restrictions of their nation-state can lead to strong cinematic statements. Or at the very least, a fascinating complexity.

Panahi's recent "This is Not a Film," for example--made when he was under house arrest--was one of the most heralded films in Cannes.

After Lou premiered his bold (sometimes frustrating-to-watch) film "Summer Palace" -- which includes a daring sex scene, and most provocatively, is set against the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests -- without government approval at Cannes in 2006, he was banned for five years from making films.

But like so many filmmakers, the ban has only seemed to energize Lou, with his latest film having just premiered in Venice. While his mostly Paris-set latest "Love and Bruises," a story of l'amour fou between a Chinese girl and a French construction worker, has received mix reviews -- Variety called it "a raw, jagged, in-your-face study of the self-destructive bond between two lost souls" and an "intensely acted but emotionally unrevealing angst-fest" -- it's generating him a good deal of publicity.

In a Variety profile, Lou described the love story as a symbol for political and social issues. At one point in "Bruises," the girl returns to Beijing to be with a former boyfriend, but then goes back to Paris. "I can understand Hua's feeling of being 'in between,'" Lou told Variety. "Between different cultures, people, politics and culture, between different races and territories, sex and love, violence and tenderness, love and bruises, [is] a true human feeling, but lonely as well."

While "Love and Bruises" won't screen in China, Lou said he's ready to make another film in his home country. "I've submitted my first project after the ban to the censorship bureau. We're waiting for its approval. It has been a month and we're still waiting."

While you might think Lou's chances of being embraced by China's State run media are grim, just remember that one of China's most celebrated filmmakers, Zhang Yimou, saw his early films "Ju Dou" and "Raise the Red Lantern" banned, and he was also forbidden to make films for five years. Now look where he is: In 2008, he directed the Beijing Olympics propagandist opening ceremonies.

I've always felt that even oppressive governments will embrace filmmakers that push the envelope, especially if they're successful and bring the country esteem.

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