2021 Oscars Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Last year, I was only able to see the Oscar-nominated short films online through VIFF Connect. This year, they returned back to the theatre. I had the good fortune to see the nominated films for both the Animated and Live-Action categories. All the films are unique and deserving of their nominations. Here’s my review of the nominated films for Animation and Live-Action:

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Affairs Of The Art (dir. Joanna Quinn) – Beryl is a struggling artist. She comes from an eccentric family. She has a sister whom, as a younger child, had a fixation with deceased animals and dissecting them. It paid off for her as her sister has done a very profitable post mortem business in Los Angeles and has attracted many big name celebrities. Beryl has always had an obsession with drawing and colors and has a goal of being an ‘artiste of note,’ but it’s only paid off very humbly for her. How can she make it work?

This is a charming animated film. Full of quirky drawings with a quirky story and charming characters. Not to mention very colorful 2D animation. It’s a story that will get you either laughing or weirded out. You will find yourself liking it in the end.

Bestia (dir. Hugo Covarrubias) – This stop-motion animated film tells the story of a Chilean woman. She has a good relationship with her dog. The outside world on the other hand, she is savage to. She is cold and calculated in every move she does. She cuts her meat in sinister fashion. Whenever she plays music, it’s in cold fashion. And she’s cold to the people she meets. She just comes as a very sadistic emotionless person.

The character is inspired by a female prison guard who is one of the most infamous Chileans ever. The film in stop-motion is done excellently giving a cold feel of the story. Although most of us outside of Chile may never know this person, it does an excellent job in capturing someone cold, merciless and emotionless. Also a reminder of how Chile still harbors silent wrath over some of its past infamy.

BoxBallet (dir. Anton Dyakov) – The film is a story of two people. One is a female ballet dancer, slender and graceful. The other is a male boxer, rough and laden with visible scars. Boy meets girl and opposites attract. But can it result in love? What unfolds is a love story between two people that one would not expect to see happen.

This is another charming 2D animation story. It has its own quirky style of animating and telling the story. The visuals are comedic and entertaining to watch. The story does seem odd at first, but the relationship and the story does come across as right in the end. Very enjoyable.

Robin Robin (dirs. Dan Ojari and Mikey Please) – This is a sweet fable of a robin who is raised by mice since birth. The mice have a habit of stealing from humans houses. But every time they attempt stealing, the robin gets the ‘who-mans’ angry and after them. It happens every time. The Robin breaks the top rule of their stealing: “Don’t attract attention.” And now they’re down to the last house in the neighborhood. On Christmas, the robin wants to prove to the mice, and a cat who’s pursuing her, that she can be a good mouse and steal the Christmas Star. In her attempt she fails again, but she later learns a lesson of self-acceptance.

This is a charming story, a fable put to good visuals, Kind of what most of us expect of animation. Aardman Animations, the studio famous for the Wallace and Gromit and Shaun The Sheep movies, does an excellent job in telling the story with great visuals and great characters in its short time. A charming delight for all to see. It’s because of this I give it my Should Win and Will Win picks.

The Windshield Wiper (dir. Alberto Mielgo) – Inside a cafe, a man is smoking a whole pack of cigarettes and reading a newspaper. Then he poses a question he asks all of us: “What is love?” The film then goes over his narrative of how humans view love along with visual images of dates, encounters and even dating apps.

The film is a 2D film full of visuals that are key to telling the story. It gives us colors and various images that we can identify with and also add more significance to what the man is talking about. Funny thing is in these 2D images, we can see us. Sometimes it makes it look like humans nowadays are more clueless about love than ever!

To sum up the five nominated films, all are good in their storytelling. Some are 2D and some 3D. All have their own different style. No two are alike. What’s most surprising is that none of the films shown before the Disney Studios or Disney Pixar films were nominated this year! Most years, one of the films is nominated. That’s a surprise!

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Ala Kachuu: Take And Run (dir. Maria Brendle) – Sezim is a young girl in a village in Kyrgyzstan who dreams of going to college. Her friend Aksana is supportive of her and arranges an interview with the college for her. She even gives her a brief driving lesson. This does not sit well with Sezim’s mother who wants her to be more traditional. One day while working at the bakery, three men come looking for one of her female co workers. The co-worker is absent for her shift. They first leave, but then return to abduct her and have her married off to a man she never met before. This breaks Sezim’s heart because she had so many future goals. Her mother is very approving. The village is supportive of this and her husband acts loving to her. However Sezim is frustrated and needs to find a way to escape. Can she seize the opportunity?

This is an excellent film from director Maria Brendle. It deals with the taboo of marriage-by-capture or “bridenappings.” This is something that is happening in many countries. In most of them, they’re illegal, but law officials are too laxed to enforce the law. Traditionalists often embrace it as the way to be. Often the woman is pressured to stay in the marriage by the society and even her families. This story puts a human image to this taboo issue. Even seeing of how her mother is approving of this sends a message of one of the barriers to stop it. That scene where Oksana is searching for Sezim, but her mother talks scornfully to her about her independent way of living also adds to how traditionalism adds to this problem. Even the attitude of traditionalists to “city girls” says a lot about this issue. It’s because of how a hot but taboo topic is tackled is why I give it my Should Win pick.

The Dress (dir. Tadeusz Lysiak) – Julia is a woman with dwarfism in her thirties who works cleaning motel rooms. She’s been single all her life. Her best friend, Renata, her co-worker for years, is a full-grown divorced woman and the mother of three. Julia often confides to Renata her personal feelings. Julia hates feeling like a misfit. She strongly feels if she was “normal-sized,” she’d have a man in her life. One day, she attracts a patron named Bogdan. She later learns Bogdan lives in the same building as her. Bogdan has been showing attraction to her, but it’s hard to date since he has a trucking job where he frequently goes to Kyiv and back. Could she finally have a chance at love? Julia always dreamed of having a nice dress. Renata helps assemble a dress for her for the big night. The big night between her and Bogdan finally happens, but it turns out to end not how she expected at all.

This is a story you want to have a happy ending. Like finally Julia meeting the man of her dreams. Finally Julia’s in love. Instead, Bogdan turns out to be a misogynist. The ending of the film leaves you wondering if the overall message of the film is about the way women are treated. Julia learned Bogdan gets misogynist in his lust, but Renata has an abusive husband. Maybe the message is saying that it doesn’t matter whether a woman is full sized or small like Julia. Women share the same struggle with their treatment from men. I mean the story appears to be one about a woman with dwarfism searching for a purpose or a belonging but maybe it was meant to be something else.

The Long Goodbye (dirs. Aniel Karia and Riz Ahmed) – The film begins with an Indian family in the UK getting ready for a wedding. Everyone in the house is excited and panicking at the same time. They all want to look their best but will they be ready? However the simple concerns about being dressed properly end as they notice a group of white nationalists enter their area with a van and a gun. Riz is the first to notice and warn the family, but it’s too late. The nationalists enter and demand the family get out of the house where they are lying down on the street. Then one of the men shoots five of his family. Riz gets up and does a rap full of anger about British imperialism and how his people have been treated by the UK in history.

White nationalism is on the rise in many countries, including the UK. Something that many were hoping to see become a thing of the past has seen a recent resurgence as many right-leaning politicians in the world have help embolden racists and stimulated in them a will to be more vocal. Most threatened are the racial minorities. Like families from India who come to settle in the UK. And this is where Riz starts his angry rap about where he’s from. They came to the UK to get a better life only to get this racist incident. He doesn’t know whether to see the UK as a country of opportunity or this monster who’s constantly running his people through the mud time and time again. The mix of drama and Riz’s rap really makes a strong angry statement. He concludes it well when he says “Where I’m from is not your problem, bro.” That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.

On My Mind (dir. Martin Strange-Hansen) – It’s morning in a bar in Denmark owned by a husband and wife named Preben and Louise. Louise doesn’t have too many customers to serve which allows Preben to do accounting of all the receipts from the previous night. A depressed-looking disheveled man comes into the bar and asks for a large amount of a whisky. His name is Henrik. As he’s drinking, he notices the bar has a karaoke microphone. He asks Louise if he can do a song for his wife: the country song “Always On My Mind.” The problem is the karaoke system isn’t on until the evening. Henrik can’t wait until the evening. He has to do it now. He even gives the two 500 Krone to do it. Preben is stingy about it, but Louise is more willing. Preben begrudgingly allows him one chance. Henrik starts singing and Louise records his singing on his smartphone, but it’s interrupted by a message. Henrik attempts to do it again, but Preben cuts the power to the screen. He’s had it with him, especially since running the karaoke machine is costly. He even gives Henrik his money back, but it’s there when Henrik explains the reason why this is so important; his wife doesn’t even have an hour to live. It’s there when Preben is willing. Henrik is finally able to complete his rendition of the song and play for his wife to hear, even if she’s brain-dead when he plays it for her.

At the end of the showing of the shorts, I was with some Danish students who said it’s very common in Danish student movies to have it set in a bar. I never knew that. Whatever the situation, this is a good story. You think it’s one thing but it turns out to be something more instead. You think it’s a simple karaoke song, but instead it’s Henrik’s last opportunity to tell his wife he loves her. Even though she’s brain-dead, he senses she got the message. The film gets you believing in the human soul and it convinces you the love between Henrik and his wife is eternal. Not just “til death do us part.”

Please Hold (dirs. K. D. Davila and Levin Menekse) – A young man named Matteo is just living his life normally when all of a sudden, a police drone, gun and all, has let him know he’s under arrest. He’s ordered to enter the automated police car which takes him to the automated holding centre. He’s instructed to go to his cell, where he’s unattended and supervised by video cameras. He can see a lawyer, but it’s through an online legal service where lawyers meet through Zoom-style meetings. Making phone calls to anyone is very costly and credits can be earned back through time or hobbies automatically delivered. That’s especially frustrating since Matteo is in danger of being sentenced to over 20 years in prison. He needs a lawyer bad. He takes a knitting hobby which he slowly earns credit. He does get the lawyer money he needs from his mother, but the appointment fizzles out, leaving him extremely frustrated. However there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a very unique “What If” scenario. We have computers and Zoom meetings taking care of a lot of our duties. Can we really trust an automated justice system or police drones? Sure, the flesh-and-blood police have lost a lot of our trust, but replaced by computers? This film seems to think computerized technology can’t replace human interaction. Also Matteo’s scenario of being in a prison where he can only communicate through automation could even remind a lot of people of the pandemic and of its tightest days of how people had to confine themselves to their houses. A lot of ways you can look at this film.

To sum up the nominated Live-Action Shorts nominees, all of them are very good films. There are a lot of stories that are well thought-out and some stories that end up being more than what one originally expects. Some have topics that are very relevant to what’s happening now, like about racism and sexism. There’s one that focuses on a futuristic topic and fancies what the future of justice will be like, which is nothing to fancy over. And there’s one about a universal topic of love beyond death that has always been one of thought and continues to be one of thought.

And there you go. This is my summary of the films nominated for the Oscars for Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. Hope you’re lucky enough to catch them in the movie theatre like I did. Some may be seen on streaming services or YouTube, but the big screen experience can’t be beat.

VIFF 2021 Review: The Scary Of Sixty-First

Supernatural hauntings of a New York apartment and a ring of famous sex offenders spark intrigue in a pair (played by director Dasha Nekrasova and Madeline Quinn) in The Scary Of Sixty-First.

The Scary Of Sixty-First is an American film that’s part of the VIFF’s series of Altered States films which set one up to expect the unknown, unusual and even bizarre. Here, bizarre is an understatement.

The story begins close to Christmas with two female friends, Noelle and Addie, searching for an affordable apartment in New York City. The come across one place in the East Side which is grand in size and has just been made available after the recent death of its tenants. The realtor however makes clear that at an affordable price any place they accept is taken as is. The girls find a place in New York’s downtown area. They are willing to clean everything up even though it was left behind with a big mess, including a moldy turkey with a dead mouse found in it. After their cleaning, they decide it’s worth staying in temporarily.

They have no problem living together, even though Addie has a boyfriend named Greg. Addie is at a crossroads in her life. She doesn’t know whether to move on and establish herself, or live with Greg. One day, a young woman visits the place while only Noelle is home. She introduces herself and informs Noelle that this suite was owned by Jeffrey Epstein before he was arrested. Just when both Addie and Noelle were already starting to sense the bad vibes of the place, it gets even worse when they notice blood underneath the mattress. They find a tarot card with a provocative image that they feel holds a clue to the place.

The other woman and Nicole start having a tempestuous relationship. It almost appears the place is becoming more like Noelle’s and the other woman’s instead of Noelle’s and Addie’s. As they both are trying to get a better understanding of the place, Addie is feels drawn to the place, despite also sensing the danger of it. Addie starts having an interest in Prince Andrew as the woman tells Noelle of the stories involving Prince Andrew to the place. Things turn for the bizarre as while she has sex with Greg, she shouts in a demonic voice for him to imagine her underage. That creeps Greg out and starts the friction in the relationship. The woman and Nicole are especially freaked out by Addie’s frequent masturbation, child-like behavior, and fixation with Prince Andrew memorabilia.

As the woman and Noelle get further and further into the Epstein connection with this place, they have had enough. They go to a crystals shop where they think the man who runs the store will know what the tarot card means and will have a good sense of what’s wrong inside. The man turns out to be creepy as he appears to deride them both of what he senses in their aura. However once they show him the card, he’s convinced of the problem and warns them to leave.

Then one day, Addie arrives to the place appearing like she’s possessed by a demon. Both of the women notice Addie worshiping whatever appears to be in the place. The two have to go in, fearing the worst. The end culminates in something you would not at all expect no matter what you had anticipated. It’s even a surprise for Addie, Noelle, the woman and Greg.

This is truly a bizarre story. The story already begins on a creepy note about a house left over by deceased people which the two have to clean up themselves, only to discover a moldy turkey in the fridge with a dead mouse in it! The bizarreness just starts there and continues into weirder territory. The weirdness grows with the mention that this was owned by an associate of Jeffrey Epstein, then comes mention of Prince Andrew, and the bizarreness grows and grows after that. Sometimes, you’re left wondering what the main theme of the film is about? Sex-offenders? The supernatural? Bizarre possessions? What is the main subject? There were even other people leaving the theatre wondering what was the point?

Despite the bizarre story, I give credit to Belarussian-born Dasha Nekrasova. This is a very ambitious film she directs, co-writes with co-star Madeline Quinn and acts in. It’s a very daring story as it reaches into the supernatural, the provocative, and even the taboo. However it’s a story that gets you wondering what is the overall point? Yes, the ending is different from what one would expect, as one should be, but it doesn’t make sense in the end. Sometimes you wonder what was the film aiming to be? A scary drama? A scary comedy? A load of shock value? What exactly?

Despite my confusion with this, I will say the acting from Dasha was very good as she did an excellent job with her part. even the scenes where it didn’t appear to make much sense. Actually if anyone should understand this story, it’s Dasha. Madeline Quinn was also very good as Noelle. Being the co-writer of the story, she would most likely be the only other person who understands the story best. Betsey Brown was also very good as Addie. Being under a bizarre possession opens the door for bad acting. But Betsey pulled it off well. Mark Rapaport is also good as Greg. He has the luxury of portraying possibly the sanest character in the story!

Despite the weirdness of the film, this film has attracted awards mention. At the Berlin Film Festival, it won the Best First Feature Award and was nominated for an Encounters Award and a Teddy Award (given to LGBT films) for Best Feature Film. At the Sitges – Catalonian Film Festival, it was nominated for a New Visions Award for Best Motion Picture. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, many critics see this film as a tribute to the bad horror movies of the 80’s. Maybe these film festivals and critics are seeing something in it most of us didn’t.

The Scary Of Sixty-First is definitely far from your conventional story. However it’s a film that is often too weird or too bizarre in either subject matter or story line to make sense. Sometimes you’re left wondering what was the point? The story or shock value?

VIFF 2020 Review: Cured

Cured is a documentary that retraces what is arguably the first hurdle cleared by LGBT activists and would pave the way to rights gays and lesbians have today.

The VIFF presents a lot of documentaries and a lot of LGBT-themed films. Cured is an LGBT-themed documentary that focuses on what one arguably considers the first hurdle they had to overcome.

The documentary begins with an introduction of the American Psychiatric Association. In 1952, they published their first edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They included a chapter on sexual disorders. At the top of the list was ‘homosexuality.’ No doubt it was controversial. Psychiatrists bought it up, had ‘treatments’ and ‘therapy methods’ invented to ‘cure gay men and women, and really created a stigma. Most outraged were the gays and lesbians. They would hate how something like this would demonize them and how they lived and loved.

Once it was declared a form of mental illness, and had treatments listed, people were sent to hospitals like Utica, NY for painful treatments like electroshock therapy or in extreme cases, a lobotomy. However there was a slow but sure number of LGBT people that would start things to get this overturned. The first was a lesbian group led by couple Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen. They were joined by Frank Kameny. During the 1960’s they worked to start support groups and organize rallies to spread awareness and end the negative stigma the public had towards gay people. Besides fames sexologist Alfred Kinsey published shocking studies in 1948 of a good percentage of men engaging in same-sex behavior.

After gaining a lot of support, the next step was to influence the APA to remove homosexuality form the list of mental illnesses. They would soon find support among doctors. There was one psychiatrist, Dr. John Fryer, who not only supported them but was gay himself. There were times they had to go to meetings and rallies involving the APA and ‘crash’ them. During the meeting they ‘crashed’ in San Francisco, they encouraged doctors to come sit with a homosexual and listen to what they have to say. For two hours, many doctors were willing to do so.

Over time, there were a growing number of doctors with the APA who soon adopted a gay-friendly attitude and were supportive of the group’s pleas. However there were still stubborn naysayers like Drs. Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides who were determined to have it kept listed as a mental illness. Gay and lesbian groups would hold information booths at APA rallies with titles like ‘Gay, Proud And Healthy.’ Then would come a meeting in 1972 to have gay activists openly speak to the APA. Dr. Fryer would be one of the speakers, but with a clown mask and under the name Dr. H. Homosexual to keep him from losing his job. In 1973, the APA soon removed homosexuality in its list of neurological disorders. However it would still be subject to a vote at a 1974 APA meeting. The majority voted in favor of the removal.

You think of all the milestones LGBTs have made over the past fifty or so years. There was Stonewall, decriminalization of homosexuality, allowing gays to teach and own houses, lobbying for funding for AIDS research, allowing gays in the military, and the legalization of gay marriage. It’s easy to forget this is one of the most important moments in LGBT history, and arguably their first victory in the US. We shouldn’t forget LGBTs have been through worse. There was a time centuries ago gays and lesbians were executed worldwide. In fact Thomas Jefferson’s recommendation that gays be castrated was a ‘liberal’ recommendation during a time when they were hanged. It was a universal norm throughout most of history that a man should love a woman and a woman should love a man and that’s that. Anything else was deviant and criminal. So it should be no surprise a national psychiatric association would label same-sex attraction a mental illness. I’m sure the US wasn’t the only nation that did so.

This is a documentary that’s an important lesson for LGBT people to know. I’m sure there are a lot of young LGBT people who still don’t understand why many in the heterosexual majority consider them inferior. But like Bill Maher once said: “If you think you have it tough, go read history books!” Today’s LGBT young people have it better than any generation of LGBT young people before them. In the past, such young people would be subject to disowning from family, criminal prosecution, and way back having next-to-nobody to turn to. Since the history of humanity on the planet until just after World War II, the gay or lesbian lifestyle or attraction was universally condemned and even criminalized and you could easily lose your job if your ‘secret’ was unraveled. The moments in this documentary are a good indication of the feeling and the attitudes of the times. It’s also important for young LGBT people know how pride movements started out or came to be. They’ll learn of people who started pride at a time when there was no one to turn to and a time when fierce opposition was eventual. The LGBT activists of that era were especially important in paving the way to the liberties, freedoms and social acceptances today’s LGBT people have today.

This documentary is also beneficial today for two main reasons. The first is that there are still people, mostly religious leaders and their followers, who still insist that homosexuality is a mental illness and conversion therapy is the answer. Many will remember advertisements starting in the late-90’s about faith-based conversion therapy programs. If the failure rates of programs from psychiatrists were high, what do you think that says about these unproven faith-based programs? It’s all a political game. The second is that it shows how something that starts off as a grass-roots movement can grow into something nationwide and have a big impact. Even paving way to the civil liberties and rights LGBTs have today.

Top marks go to directors Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer. This documentary may not be too original in terms of style, but it’s excellent with interviews, both original and archived, and rare footage. They have the facts together in stringing this story together about what is an important part of LGBT history and celebrates a lot of lesser-known or forgotten founders of the LGBT movement. It’s also important that they show the shocking footage of the electroshock therapy and other ‘conversion’ methods used in the time. Because the LGBT of today need to know what the past had to fight,

Cured is a documentary about history being made by those who made the history. It’s important history for today’s young LGBT’s to know what those of the past have overcome. It’s especially relevant today since there are many opponents who harbor those similar thoughts today.

VIFF 2019 Review: To Live To Sing (活着唱着)

to_live_to_sing
To Live To Sing is of a local Chinese opera troupe trying to save itself from gentrification.

I accidentally came across To Live To Sing when the virtual reality show I wanted to see was in a venue with a low capacity. I’m glad I saw it.

The film begins with a show of local performers in a Chinese city. The show starts with a modern fan dance by schoolgirls. It’s then followed by the Jinli Sichuan Opera Troupe: a local troupe that performs traditional Chinese opera. Right after the show, the opera troupe goes back to their own end of the city where they put on their own daily show. They perform every day at the same time at the same small theatre and entertain the same local crowd they’ve charmed for years. They rehearse well and they get along mostly fine. They have their own disputes on how to do something artistically, but it doesn’t last long. The Troupe is led by Zhao Li whom oversees everything. Her niece Dan Dan, who was orphaned at a young age and raised by Zhao, is seen by Zhao as the future of the troupe as most are aging.

Things are changing in the area they live. A lot of old homes are being crushed under government orders in order to build new developments. The theatre is under threat. This will not only mean the end of the theatre but the end of the opera troupe too. Zhao is frustrated as her theatre doesn’t attract crowds big enough. The others are worried too, but they try to make plans fearing the worst. Dan Dan however sees this as a breakthrough moment as she always dreamt of being a pop star instead of being confined to an opera troupe where she only gets paid 10%. During the time of frustrations, Zhao notices a dwarf in Chinese opera wear. She tries to spot him out, but he runs away.

Zhao is trying to negotiate with the government about keeping her theatre. However she knows it will be uncertain due to the small crowds that come to her theatre. Zhao is very forbidding of any modernisms that come to the theatre. She is strict on tradition. Then one night when she’s out, she notices the dwarf. She tries to follow him but loses focus of him. She is by a night club and she is drawn to the music. Then the announcer announces a singer for her first performance. It’s Dan Dan, and in a showy dress. Dan Dan notices Zhao in the crowd and can’t sing. The two have a fight outside where Dan Dan walks off furiously. The following day, Zhao confessed to Dan Dan that she always saw her as her daughter. Dan Dan becomes more committed to the troupe.

Zhao has another encounter with the dwarf and the dwarf takes her to a restaurant. There she sees one of the men negotiate a future job deal. Feeling the threat harder, Zhao decides one day to break with tradition and do a show that fuses modern with traditional. The troupe is welcoming of it. They perform the show with the mix of modern and traditional. The crowd loved it, but Zhao notices the spirit of the dwarf as it takes her to a mysterious land of Chinese art and culture.

Despite the audience pleased with the performance, Zhao can’t lose focus as an official from the party will be attending a show to see whether to keep the theatre up or not. They get a chance! However it’s a very slim one as the areas nearby are being crushed. The night before, Zhao has the same fantasy of the dwarf taking her to that land. Then the day of the show. The audience is ready. The players are ready, but the official is not to be seen. There has to be a wait and it’s making the crowd impatient. Then the official finally arrives and they are able to put on their show. Just as the show is happening, Zhao is again taken away to that imaginary place. The show she’s in is a dazzling trip of the imagination, until the character played by Dan Dan is stabbed. It all falls apart.

We then learn that the official decided to have the theatre removed. The troupe is heartbroken, even though some talk about plans of what to do after. The next day where there’s no show, members of the local audience show up and wonder why know show? The film flashes five years later with Zhao and Dan Dan returning to the same spot and what’s become of it. They see the development and the ruins. However Zhao sees the dwarf again. Possibly to send one last message.

The film is a common story about art attempting to stay alive. The film also touches on the subject of gentrification. We see it all around us; old buildings being crushed for new developments with big profits in mind. I see it a lot in Vancouver. Here it shows it happening in the People’s Republic of China. In most countries, they have the freedom where they can come bring this issue up to the government. Not all chances work out successfully, but they’re still given a fair chance. In China, you’re chances are very limited with a chance that’s slim to none. When the government says it will happen, it will happen. Zhao was lucky to have that one chance where she could prove to the government the importance of her opera. It was unsuccessful but she still had it.

The film also showed another aspect or battle. It also showcased the battle between traditional art and the more modern art or entertainment that’s the call of the day. Without a doubt, Zhao is a purist of the traditional Chinese opera and starts off as forbidding to the new ways and the new sounds. We should not be surprised that she would be furious if she saw Dan Dan become a contemporary pop star. Despite her belief in traditionalism, she does convince herself to welcome the modern sounds and even mesh it into the traditional opera. We see that a lot in many countries of mixing traditional or classical with the modern. It’s actually very successful in many countries. It proves to be a success here too. However the film sends a message that even with modernisms, the traditional should not be lost. It should still be admired and celebrated.

One thing the film tried to make clear with the story is of the spirits of art and how it exists inside Zhao. You may notice there are many times a dwarf in opera garb is in Zhao’s vision. The dwarf leads Zhao to many images all telling the story of what will happen. However the dwarf doesn’t always lead Zhao to images of a happy ending. That image where the opera comes alive in Zhao’s dreams but leads to the stabbing of Dan Dan is what would send the message of the bad fate of the opera troupe and its house. However it’s right at the end where when it appears all has been long lost at the end, it’s not. The spirit of art still remains even in the ruins.

This is the first film I’ve seen from Chinese-Canadian writer/director Johnny Ma. Living in Vancouver, he’s able to do Chinese stories that would not be the most welcome in the People’s Republic. His first feature from 2016 Lao Shi was about battling bureaucracy and legal manipulation in China. The film was shown at the Hong Kong film festival but not in Shanghai. This film was shown in both Shanghai and Hong Kong. It doesn’t depict the government that bad here. Instead the focus is on art and its attempt to survive. Johnny does a very good story and is good at sending a message, but it is a bit uneven in its storyline. The film also has a real opera troupe as its cast and they all play fictional versions of themselves. That’s another quality to the film. It does make you wonder how they’re doing in their home country. The actors all did well by being themselves when they had to, performers when they had to, and actors when they had to. Zhao Xiaoli and Gan Guidan stood out the most as the two did show a close chemistry in the film that made the aunt/niece relationship look real.

To Live To Sing is a story of artistic ambitions with a bittersweet ending. However it’s a good and colorful, albeit imperfect, reminder that art will triumph.