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50th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Sunday, April 29, 2007
8:15 p.m. How Is Your Fish Today?
Xiaolu Guo (China/England, 2007)

(Jin tian de yu zen me yang?). Struggling screenwriter Hui Rao shuffles around his apartment in his bathrobe, drives through packed roads encircling the bustling city, and generally plods through life, trusty cigarette in hand. Rao, who admits he cannot recall the last time he left Beijing, ticks off figures illustrating the city's massive growth (two-and-a-half million cars roam the streets, but in six months the number will reach three million) and manages to inhabit only void spaces: empty apartments, vacant cars, an almost unpopulated gym. A self-acknowledged failure as a scribe, Rao's monotone monologue narrates throughout, as he obsessively rewrites a rejected script he cannot seem to forget. He escapes the quotidian banality of his life by delving into the story of his protagonist, Lin Hao, a murderer on the run who travels from a rural southern village to the icy outpost of Mohe, China's most northern point. Xiaolu's novelistic film (her first feature-length narrative) ruminates on urban isolationism in a rapidly expanding China. While Rao inhabits a decidedly prosperous circle of artists and intellectual elite in Beijing, the barren hinterland of Mohe seems to him a much more attractive world. Village life, as depicted in schools, a local inn, and a Christian church ceremony, has a feeling of quiet vitality. Weaving documentary footage, shimmering landscape shots, and symmetrically composed frames of urban architecture and railway structures, Xiaolu breaks from the Sixth Generation filmmakers' rough-and-tumble street style of shooting. Here, Beijing is a stifling monolith, but China itself is an endless panorama.

—Jennifer Preissel

• Written by Hui Rao, Xiaolu. Photographed by Sheng Lu. With Hui, Zijang Yang, Xiaolu, Ning Hao. (83 mins)