The Princess of Nebraska
Ling Li, Brian Danforth, Pamelyn Chee, Patrice Binaisa / Fiction / English, Mandarin
One woman faces an uncertain future.
?This companion piece to A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (also screening at EIFF; see p 75) similarly explores the sense of alienation felt by Chinese newly arrived in America. The film’s technique, however, is radically different. Instead of the sedate imaging and pervasive calm that reign in A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, Wayne Wang opts for restlessly experimental digital lensing, favouring acrobatic movements and unconventional angles. The divergent visual styles mirror the difference between the protagonists of the two films: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers explores the experience of an elderly Chinese man who has attained reflective calm through his long years, whereas The Princess of Nebraska follows a young Chinese woman whose frenetic lifestyle leaves no room for quiet contemplation.The woman in question is Sasha, recently arrived in San Francisco (from Beijing, via Omaha) to seek an abortion. She is pregnant by Yang, a Peking Opera singer, who now hustles in Beijing after being cast out of the Opera because of his affair with an American man, Boshen. Now also in San Francisco, Boshen encourages Sasha to keep Yang’s baby – a ploy to entice Yang to America.The film describes the chaotic 24 hours leading up to Sasha’s consultation at an abortion clinic. She runs well and truly wild; it’s a portrait of abandon driven by desperate fear. When Sasha finally reaches the clinic, her impish bravado melts away – as does the film’s hyperactive visual style. In this final scene, Wang peels back the facade to reveal a terrified girl making an impossible choice in an alien environment. What makes this so profoundly affecting is Wang’s masterful shift in technique, moving in a few deft sweeps from hyperactive digital verité, to rabbit-in-the-headlights stillness. The final cut is one of the most stunning single moments in cinema this year.
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