When disconsolate lovers gentle up a post-coital cigarette amid tousled bedclothes in a French New Wave movie, the supply of their angsty ennui is usually, in a roundabout way or different, l’amour. But when it’s Hangzhou, China, within the late 2010s, versus 1960s Paris, the supply of the disaffection, and subsequently the poetry, is rather more obscure — regardless of an experimental edge that can’t however summon the early movies of Godard and Truffaut with its black and white, leap cuts, destructive reversals, non-sequitur edits, off-kilter framing and smoking habits so prevalent they tackle an existential which means of their very own.
Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s spectacular, all however inexpressive debut, goes by the appropriately enigmatic and smoky title “The Cloud in Her Room,” and received the highest prize on the 2020 Rotterdam Movie Pageant. And it feels just like the launch of an excitingly uncompromised, offbeat new expertise, whose sensibility nods to each the trendy slow-burn social realist custom in China, and the basic European arthouse, with out being beholden to both.
DP Matthias Delvaux’s monochrome images is tender and mid-toned — if something, usually keyed extra to the white than the black, in order that, like in a stupendous and surprisingly express intercourse scene, entangled limbs and pores and skin tones flip to alabaster. After which when, from time to time, the picture is reversed into destructive, the darks dominate: the muzzle flare from a welding iron is an inverse firework spilling globs of black down a stairwell. If particular person photographs last more with you than the slender skeins of narrative that run via Zheng’s screenplay, that does look like a deliberate — and fairly daring — alternative on the a part of a brand new filmmaker assured sufficient to construct her movie obliquely, and with out the apparent storytelling scaffolding of plot and narrative arc.
It additionally makes “The Cloud within the Her Room” troublesome to explain, besides as a sequence of ephemeral encounters, largely revolving round Muzi (Jin Jing), a slight, directionless 22-year-old in high-waisted pegged trousers and clumpy sneakers, who’s visiting her hometown of Hangzhou. Her divorced mother and father (Liu Dan and Ye Hongming) are every with new companions — the newest of a number of for each, apparently — and Muzi herself is juggling a semi-serious relationship together with her Beijing photographer boyfriend Yu Fei (Chen Zhou) who follows her to Hangzhou unexpectedly, and a sort-of attraction to a cosmopolitan native bar proprietor (Dong Kangning).
There are docudrama-ish interludes that are nearly like interviews with orbital characters. There’s a crisply designed, deceptively realist soundscape complemented by the sparing use of Tseng Yun-Fang’s hyper-modern, atonal music. And there are eccentric, lived-in moments that really feel borderline autobiographical of their authenticity: Muzi’s little half-sister Niu (Wang Ruiwen) goes to an after-school class the place, half-cutely, half-horrifyingly, youngsters are studying to strike catwalk poses and to strut like fashions; Muzi goes on a stroll with a homosexual good friend (Wu Wei) via an deserted development that appears like a prehistoric cavern and events an argument between him and his boyfriend (Ding Yi) when he offhandedly proposes that she bear his little one.
The very infrastructure of town is reflective of Muzi’s melancholic frame of mind: It’s in a relentless flux of visitors and constructing work nearly as if distracting itself from its gradual decline. This entropy is most clearly exemplified in Muzi’s childhood residence, which is deserted now, though nonetheless owned by her father. When she explores its small rooms alone, or later, with Yu Fei extolling its virtues like a realtor, the air of neglect is palpable. When she goes to open a window, the entire body falls away.
It’s these sudden moments of vivid drama — the falling window, the intercourse scenes, the barroom discussions, the tussle between Muxi and her drunken mom after a karaoke evening — that give the movie such uncommon texture. There are laborious edges to bump in opposition to within the diaphanous fog of temper she units up which give “The Cloud in Her Room” a freshness and a realness that stops it from floating away into wispy irrelevance. That stated, with little ahead momentum (the director can also be co-editor and so dictates its noodling tempo), there’s additionally little narrative motive why the movie will not be both 20 minutes or 500 minutes lengthy — which isn’t essentially a destructive, nevertheless it does imply that the filmmaker is stating and restating her obscure thesis till the repetition, with solely fractional shifts in temper, turns into the purpose. Episodic and experimental, lucid after which langorous, “The Cloud in Her Room” provides all it has to offer from nearly the second it begins, and when it ends, it doesn’t actually finish, it merely stops.