Mrs. Fang Screen 13 articles

Mrs. Fang


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  • This level of intimacy skirts the boundaries of prurience and consent. Mrs. Fang is for these last days unable to speak, unable even to move under her own volition, so how can we know how she feels about the filmmakers’ presence, if she’s even aware of it? But it also asks exceptionally uncomfortable questions of us, about why we are so unnerved by the naked evidence of this most natural and inevitable of human processes, about why we want to look away, and why we do not.

  • As always in Wang's work, Mrs. Fang evinces an unobtrusive structuralism and ability to distill insight from seemingly innocuous occurrences; perhaps the film's only real innovation is that these virtues can cast their spell just as well over 90 minutes as they do over the several hours that his documentations frequently last. And while the film's ultimate message is also not radically new, it's typically wise.

  • After the somewhat troubling Ta'ang, which (I thought at least) found Wang's direct-cinema tendencies getting the better of him, China's best-known documentarian -- and possibly its best, though I'm not qualified to say -- returns to the intimacy that has always been his strong suit. Mrs. Fang is simultaneously an end-of-life study, in the vein of Wiseman's Near Death and King's Dying at Grace, and an indelible piece of portraiture.

  • Having only seen Mrs. Fang and Ta'ang, my impression is that Wang selects footage counterintuitively, prizing the kind of moments most doc filmmakers seem to reject for the sake of efficiency, when either too much or too little is ostensibly happening from which to make meaning. . . . By eschewing the usual structures with which cinema makes sense of grief, Wang achieves a portrait of how impending death can unsettle the foundations of an entire family.

  • Some will no doubt find Wang’s gaze on Mrs. Fang to be pitiless, but then the guiding principle of the film is to capture the cruel horror of the comforting din of the familiar becoming unknown to us.

  • Despite now having made many conventional length documentaries, this Chinese director is best reputed for his expansive works—the 9-hour Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks—which is why Mrs. Fang's modestly scaled, minutely attentive and intimate focus on the last living days of this grandmother on her deathbed has unusual force. Her face, framed in immense close-ups, mouth agape, skin drawn, barely breathing but eyes still shining, are given sustained and merciful attention by the filmmaker.

  • To me personally, Mrs Fang is Wang Bing’s best film. He’s reached the height of his career. The sheer complexity he has shown by this simple portrait of death is overwhelming. Other films of his, such as West of the Tracks, are also complex and demand a thorough engagement. But Mrs Fang goes much further. . . . Mrs Fang goes deep, deeper than any other film I know dealing with the human being, the human as a living creature whose life is finite.

  • The men work mostly as fisherman, and Wang captures their lengthy nighttime sorties, as well as the surrounding post-industrial landscape, with the same patient interest as he does Fang’s deterioration. Befitting its intimate subject matter, Mrs. Fang is a smaller film than some of Wang’s more panoramic studies of contemporary China, but there’s a potency to its scale and an undeniable power to its directness.

  • The most affecting scenes are those when he hones in on Mrs Fang herself, who, despite only having the remaining strength to lie mute, her mouth agape and expression strained, manages to express a lifetime in the flicker left in her eyes. One particularly wrenching moment arrives almost accidentally, Fang reaching out an arm to her daughter at the exact moment that a sentimental soap opera theme rings out from the bedroom’s always-on TV set. Real life can be written, or it can be recorded.

  • The irritating sound of the electric zapper becomes the film’s significant aural motif, and its recurrence is essential: nothing less than a reminder of the fragile border between life and death. The filmmaker has also happened upon a handy aesthetic conceit, oscillating between the tight confines of the dying woman’s bedroom and the men’s fishing pond, two spaces that inform one another obliquely but clearly—it’s so very simple: in both cases, life is there, and then it isn’t.

  • The sharp back-and-forth lateral movement between human woe and the natural world counterpoises two variations on waiting, also working somewhat in the tradition of Tang Dynasty poetry, and watching Wang’s emotional, moral, and pictorial intelligence at work from moment to moment elevates Mrs. Fang above mere morbidity.

  • The film that burrowed the deepest path into my memory was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most harrowing. . . . Wang's camera is blank-eyed, capturing life as it moves backward and forward in these constricted spaces. But even as we long for him to elicit some kind of warmth or tenderness, it’s always his steadfast dedication to inhabiting the stuttering rhythms of day-to-day existence that moves us.

  • For documentary ethicists, there is something unsettling about the film’s glaringly intrusive shooting style and its relentless documentation of Mrs. Fang’s slow demise. Wang, however, seems to be alerting us to the even more disturbing ethical morass created by his protagonist’s family, a bickering, bored contingent of relatives who appear oblivious to Mrs. Fang’s suffering.

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