Are You Lonesome Tonight (2021) Cannes Film Festival 2021

July 12th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Wen Shipei; Cast: Eddie Peng, Sylvia Chang, Wang Yanhui, Zhang Yu; China 2021, 95 min.

Memory and obsession dominate the debut of Chinese director/co-writer Wen Shipei in a contemporary version of Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’.

Taking its title from the iconic Elvis tune which is rendered by numerous artists on various media outlets, Are You Lonesome Tonight smoulders with hallucinatory visuals from Andreas Thalhammer, most of the action taking place night in an old fashioned trippy experience.

Xue Ming (Peng) tries to get by as an air-con engineer, but hardly makes ends meet. His much younger girl friend (Peiyao), is dismayed when he misses another date in the local cinema, without even apologising. Driving along in a clapped out mini-van Ming runs over a man, and decides to dispose of the corpse rather than alert the authorities. His victim is Mr. Liang; his widow Liang Ma (a brilliant Sylvia Chang) puts up ‘Missing Person’ posters all over town. But it soon turns out Liang was also a smalltime gangster, and the lucrative spoils from life of crime are hidden in a locker at the railway station. Ming finds a key but is unaware of the fortune.

As it happens, Liang Ma’s air conditioning breaks down, and Ming is only too willing to repair it for free, in an effort to assuage his burgeoning guilt for her husband’s death. Liang Ma reveals that the police have found her husband’s body and identified his killer. Meanwhile Peng becomes obsessed with his crime and the surviving victim, following Liang Ma everywhere, desperate to make a clean breast of it, and finally finding the courage to confess.

Enter Detective Inspector Chen (Yanhui), who gets obsessed with the case. The chase and shootings that follow are the weakest part of the feature, which redeems itself with the last part, after Peng’s release from the prison after an eight-year sentence in 2005.

A non-linear structure underpins this episodic feature, so whenever Shipei shifts into action mode, the narrative loses its integrity: the key to the treasure in the railway station is merely a McGuffin, and Shipei would have done better to treat it exactly as such. Ma Liang’s guilt at wishing her husband dead, before he left on that fateful evening, is as lingering as Ming’s guilt for killing the unsavoury husband.

Detective Chen is the third member of this rimorse-ridden trio, trying to avenge the death of his partner. Their struggle to liberate themselves is a long one, but there is hope for all of them.

Are you Lonesome is a brilliant exercise in aesthetics. Fewer conventional action scenes would have made more impact in this  impressive-looking modern drama. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2021

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