Between Identity and Tradition

Review by Barbora Jurašková

A Dog Barking at the Moon (Zai jian nan ping wan zhong),
by Lisa Zi Xiang, Stateless 2019

 “I wish everything I lived here was a theatre play.” Says in one point the main protagonist played by Nan Ji. Instead, life of all her family reminds of theatre play written by her own mother. 

Debut of the director Lisa Xiang Zi is a movie about queer topic but more it is a story about family, traditions, Chinese society issues and not least by big part it is a story of directors’ own life. Not just that talking about our own traumas is usually the most difficult thing to do, she was also in the second half of pregnancy while shooting and, thanks to the topic, had very low budget and had to trick the government to be even able to shoot. Over all those obstacles she opened her career with very engaged, kind and honest piece.

The story is told by jumping between three seemingly not connected lines which are rising many questions. Anyhow it can seem to be confusing from the beginning, it just needs a bit of patience to stick the puzzles together into an intimate picture of traditional Chinese people trying to get along with their unwanted queer related problems. But beside homosexuality taboos, the movie opens also a questions of gender emancipation and of course the problematic of Confucian view of relationship between parents and children in nowadays society. Still, the kindness of the piece is present in the feeling of family love even in the angriest scenes.

The connections to the traditionalism of China is seen also through a lot of symbolism in the piece, which I can’t fully interpret (as I am not a sinologist) but obvious is at least symbolism in rain and snow. While we see strong rain in two scenes – one in the middle while washing out an argue and bringing up a strong feeling of relief and second in the very end of the movie which is lightening too after everything what the characters went through – the snow, bad omen, in combination with the use of theatre stage, is bringing one of the heaviest parts of the movie.

And symbolism is not ending with the Chinese meanings, there’s a lot what didn’t have to be told to be understood, the brutally divided watermelon on the beginning or, what everyone is probably thinking more about, the title. Dog Barking on the Moon is originally a painting by Joan Miró and is used in this case as an illustration of impossibility to reach a common understanding. In the picture, there is a dog howling on the moon and a ladder. The important message is that even if you climb that ladder and are not able to get along, it is necessary to try to get as close as you can.  And that is the sad and in the same time beautiful point of the movie.

The audience dive for more than one and half hour in a troubled life of one family, all together we try to find the solution of the problems and understand the characters, we seek their motivations. The power of the director is in showing good and bad and still avoid any judgement. A Dog Barking at the Moon is a piece which is making sense on every level and is very worth to see. Unfortunate is the fact that most use it would certainly have in China where no one can guarantee it will be approved for screening.