In using this initial mystery of unknown forces, Xiashuai's Red Amnesia shares many similarities with Michael Haneke's Hidden (2005) and he is exploring a similarly political act of wilful forgetting and guilt. Whereas Haneke's concern was Algeria, Xiashuai's is the Cultural Revolution and the survivors and perpetrators who remained. The slow revelation of a partly hidden, partly suppressed past makes of Deng's story something much larger and the director broadens his vision, moving Deng out of Beijing and back to the countryside and location of her former exile. While in Beijing an endless queue forms to apply for one free apartment, the factory region of Guizhou deep in the countryside is apparently abandoned, full of crumbling red brick ruins and occasional residents effectively left behind.
The slow unwinding of the tale reveals Deng to be a much more complicated character than was first apparent and that even her sons suspected. Indeed, Red Amnesia's first half is about generational neglect, the rendering obsolete of those who no longer have a place and their vulnerable position in the city. This at first seems unjust as she has done so much for her family, made hard choices. However, in her commitment to her sons, there has also been a callous selfishness, which has caused untold damage and suffering. Red Amnesia is a brave and necessary film, probing painful memories and stirring into life forgotten guilt and enmity. Although there is the odd moment which slips into melodrama, the drama is sustained by a pitch perfect and award worthy performance by Lü.
The 71st Venice Film Festival takes place from 27 August to 6 September 2014. For more coverage, follow this link.