by Sean Gilman Film

Someone to Talk To | Liu Yulin

July 12, 2017

The motivating concern of Liu Yulin’s Someone to Talk To is suggested by the film’s title, and repeated endlessly throughout; it’s the idea that lonely people tend to find communication with another person to be difficult. The screenplay—adapted by Liu Yulin’s father, Liu Zhenyun, from his own award-winning novel—is about a man whose wife is having an affair, and who responds to this fact with a wide range of expressions, indulging a murderous rage and the desire to learn to cook his wife her favorite meal. Nothing seems to make him feel better, however, and neither his lonely older sister nor his adorable young daughter can help. Liu’s film is a strictly bland melodrama; at its best it recalls Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, except with all the poetry and mystery drained out of it.

Where the director excels is in capturing the compromises and failures of life in working class China, a side of the nation we only see in small independent films, whereas the mainstream national cinema is all glossy adventure and period pieces or fantastical displays of globalist wealth. The strain of trying to get by, both on families and on individual souls, is palpable, as is the sense of separation from the fantastical world of capitalist successes. But when combined with the dreary repetitions of the title sentiment, the film becomes merely oppressive.

Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival | Dispatch 2.