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By Zakiyyah Wahab
It will be a journey of laughter, tears and joy for anyone who watches The Vanishing Spring Light by director Xun “Fish” Yu. Set in an old alley on West Street in Dujiangyan city in the Sichuan province, the 120-minute documentary revolves mainly around an elderly woman named Grandma Jiang in her final years of life at a house that she’s lived in for 50 years.
Yu’s high level of intimacy with the residents of West Street is clearly seen in this film. The director spent two years living with the subjects, who gradually got used to him and his camera. The underlying conflict between Grandma Jiang and her family remains potent until Grandma Jiang’s death. Resentment and frustration at having to look after Grandma Jiang in her old age mixes with obvious love for her. Breaks in the tension come with humorous jokes, like when Grandma Jiang has to ride a motor scooter. The story is easily seen through interactions on screen between family members and neighbors.
The details that Yu shows of Grandma Jiang’s funeral are stunning. It is one thing to film the daily lives of Grandma Jiang, her family as well as neighbors, but a wholly different thing to be able to film the entire process of Grandma Jiang’s funeral. The funeral was the most impactful part of the documentary. Yu reveals through detailed filming what is usually considered to be a very private event. The impact of watching the entire three-day funeral procession unfold before one’s eyes is huge.
Yu incorporates shots of natural scenery into his documentary, whether it be slowly panned shots or fixed screens. These are not very effective in enhancing or developing the story. The first panned shot of Dujiangyan city at the beginning is interesting, but the rest of the panned shots of natural scenery hinder the story from moving forward. A successful panned shot is not of natural scenery but of Grandma Jiang. In this case, it portrays the fragility and helplessness of the elderly woman.
Yu’s film is a highly detailed documentary of a diminishing but strong individual and her connection to family and friends. There is no narration to the documentary and Yu effectively leaves the story to explain itself through daily interactions between people of West Street.
Vox Rating: VVV
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