"Grain in Ear": This world is not enough By Oliver Baumgarten

in 49th IndieLisboa- Lisbon Festival of Independent Film

by Oliver Baumgarten

For the director, Zhang Lu, of Grain In Ear (Mang Zhong), the limited world within each frame is not the film’s only existence. For Zhang Lu this particular world is not enough. For him the frame of every single shot is nothing else but part of a complex whole — a complex whole that naturally surrounds his characters as well as the viewers. Some simply call it life. And people may hope to simplify their lives by erecting a small and limited world of their own — in the end though the more complex wider world will gain on them.

Somehow Cui belongs to those people. Her life has been complicated enough with a husband in jail, with bringing up a son all alone and with the burden of belonging to a South Korean minority living in China. And so she works hard to stay independent. Day after day she sells homemade kimchi, a pickled Korean side dish, to workers on the deserted outskirts of a small town. Living with her son in a small house near endless railroad tracks and deep in the middle of nowhere, it seems for a time as if she has succeeded in building her own confined world. But from the beginning, Zhang Lu leaves one in no doubt: the complexity will break into Cui’s simple construct of life in the same way as the frame is incapable of containing the entirety of the world.

Zhang Lu’s cinematographic strategy of off-screen action, in conjunction with long shots by an extremely static camera, is a wonderfully consequent decision to tell his moving story about Cui, who feels alienated and besieged by society. Her reaction in the end is panic, aggressive, and highly inadequate – but it seems to be her only way to defend her own small world.

Grain In Ear, the second feature film by Zhang Lu, who himself belongs to the South Korean minority in China, is a highly concentrated example of stringent concept films. Grain In Ear is indeed another example of cinematic importance of which much of European cinema should be truly jealous.