Thirty-year-old college lecturer Shu Qiao is about to marry her long-term boyfriend and fiancé, successful banker Hu. The future has been written for her. However, during a visiting scholar programme to Europe, Shu encounters theatre director Fan in Prague, with whom she falls hopelessly in love.
Cambridge Film Festival 2023: Film #12
It was a brave move by this film to make the Count Vronsky character, Fan, such a tasteless and sophomoric pseud right from the off. Vronsky would do a lot of things, but he would never run such a cringe-worthy "Theater Without Borders" art collective, and Tolstoy at least lets you come to see the innate attraction in Vronsky before Anna starts to see through his pretensions in the arts:
[Mikhailov] knew it was impossible to forbid Vronksy to toy with painting; he knew that he and all the dilettantes had every right to paint whatever they liked, but he found it unpleasant. It was impossible to forbid a man to make a big wax doll and kiss it. But if this man with the doll came and sat in front of a man in love and caressed his beloved, the man in love would find it unpleasant. Mikhailov experienced the same unpleasant feeling at the sight of Vronsky's painting; he felt it ridiculous, vexing, pathetic and offensive.
Based on overhearing conversations as I left the cinema, one of the open questions in the film is why Fan leaves Shu. I read Fan's ghosting Shu as less a rejection of her personally (or Fan's admitted inability to ever stick with one thing) but rather yet another juvenile way that Fan thinks he is pushing against society. That is to say, by 'ruining' Shu and preventing Hu from 'having' Shu, Fan believes he is scoring some sort of revenge against conventional culture: to Fan, the value of breaking up the Hu/Shu relationship (or, more specifically, what that particular relationship represents in a broader sense) eventually outweighs the obvious benefits of actually being with Shu. This reading not only evinces Fan's stunted idea of what it means to be an ethical human being, but also reveals him to be one of those superficial male feminists, who, whilst they can certainly act the gentleman and be Pretty Chill about that kind of stuff, they still ultimately subscribe to culture's underlying ideas about possessing and, of course, 'ruining' a woman.
Still, this film seems to have a curiously mixed message for conservative Chinese society: don't scold your daughters into having children too hard or they'll go off to Europe and sleep with insufferable artistes who will eventually jilt them and your daughter will be left sleeping on a public bench.
ps. Wait, wasn't this partly set at Salieri's mental asylum in Miloš Forman's Amadeus (1984)?!