Mrs Fang (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017

August 9th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Bing Wang | China/Ger/France | Doc | 86′ |

Bing Wang’s low-key portrait of a woman’s final days offers an engaging snapshot of modern rural China. Highlighting our growing concern for issues such as Alzheimer’s and the breakdown of the family unit, this witty and filmic documentary never takes itself too seriously while maintaining the dignity of its central focus.

Mrs Fang (Fang Xiuying) has come home from hospital to die. In the ramshackle riverside farming village of Huzhou, she is now in her late sixties and surrounded by her extended family who gather around her bed. The chatter is irreverent and off-the-cuff – this is just another ritual in their lives together as they share every subtle nuance of her dying days. Daughter and son have given up their jobs to tend to her needs, which appear modest, as she now lies staring vacantly from her bed, a set of prominent yellow teeth bared grotesquely from a hollowed out face. Her son stands in ceremony taking a pulse, and someone says: “he acts like a doctor”. No offence taken, and none intended – this is just an example of the candidness of this community that leavens a film that could otherwise be gruelling. A brief opening scene from the year before has shown Mrs Fang walking peacefully along the river. A year later, the deterioration in her condition is remarkable.

Bing still finds beauty in this seedy backwater. As the men embark on a nocturnal fishing trip, their little boat flashes like an emerald against the cocoa-coloured night sky. The men talk continuously: “It’s a snakehead”, “the battery’s leaking”, “try for a turtle, they’re in the rushes”. Their torch buzzes loudly only drowned out by the endless roar of traffic on the highway. Later they go home, leaving a woman to gut the fish and do the dirty work. Nothing changes, even in China. But the director’s message is loud and clear: How calm, secure and dignified death can be when your family is there to look after you. MT


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