The Journey of Life

in 50th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Jihane Bougrine

Queena Li offers a road trip in China with Bipolar (2021), a hypnotic black and white movie to overcome the grief.

What a cinematographic road trip across China—and what a cinematographic road trip in the beautiful mind of Queena Li, whose interesting and appalling feature debut has the power to blow the mind. This young director’s creative mind takes us on a psychedelic journey where a stolen lobster has to be saved, and where she meets different characters that will bring something to the story.

Bipolar  is an eccentric feature, with a lot of style, in which the camera is free to shine and to innovate. Besides a lack of clarity (maybe we don’t need clarity once we meet the central character), the feature debut from Queena Li is very compelling, and tricky. We try to understand and follow this charismatic, androgynous singer-songwriter Leah Dou, who is completely lost—or, on the contrary, seems to know herself better than anyone—as she begins a retrospective of herself through this journey.

Somewhere between reality and dreams—nightmares sometimes—the movie is as emotional as it is funny. Flashbacks reveal that the main character is an artist and that she is dealing with a lot of pain, and disappointments. A brilliant work with a lot of images and metaphors, silences too. Words are not important. Emotion is the key.  For the director, it’s not important to tell everything; we can guess or dream about the story sublimated by strong and powerful characters.

The cinematography is very engaging, in high-contrast black-and-white widescreen. Queena Li finds angles that we don’t expect, such as a sequence in the car, from the front passenger seat. A brilliant point of view. Strikingly shot, the movie seems to be a rock version of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita in which a mysterious boy, probably a male version of herself, is haunting her. The director pushes us to think about this schizophrenic side of a person, the perception of the human being, or the artist: Is she bipolar? Are the others real? Is she alone or not? Questions without answers, or with a lot of answers. But what is real, what is sure, is that the intensity of the sequences, the depth of the storytelling, is all that matters. Like the lobster she is trying to keep in a tiny display tank, life is surrealistic and hard to understand. Human beings are complex. And this complexity is very well presented in Bipolar. This road trip is a journey to life and the subconscious. More than the delivery of the pain, the character seems to search for the truth and try to know herself more and more, meeting eccentric characters on the way who bring something to the story, to the main character’s circle of life: a boy monk quoting poetry, a wig salesman, a pregnant girl, an elephant.

A deep feature by Queena Li, a brilliant director from China who brings something elegant and profound to the table. Bipolar is, for sure, a promising start that reveals a beautiful artist with her own special calling in life…and in cinema!

Jihane Bougrine
Edited by Robert Horton