Review: Spring Tide

In more than one scene in Yang Lina’s Spring Tide, Jianbo (Lei Hao) has to squeeze her way through crowds, the camera bobbing and weaving its way alongside her. This repeated action sets the tone of her embattlement. Jianbo is a journalist, a social reporter, who maintains a curious disconnection from her family life: her mother Ji (Elaine Jin) looks after her young daughter Wanting (Junxi Qu), who, after coming home from work, she sees briefly before heading out again of an evening. The younger of the two mother-daughter relationships is lovingly sketched in glances, smirks, and confided confidences. Almost nary a cloud passes between them. But the motivations behind this separation become clear enough. The antagonism between Jianbo and Ji is deep-rooted, and even the plainest scenes are given a sharp texture by their embittered interactions. Ji, skilled at enacting calculated cruelties, has her own despairs, though in public she is sweetness itself. These turns are given precise form by Elaine Jin, whose performance at times outruns the film: Ji can begin politely when talking to a guest, but as she starts recriminating she loses her rhythm and flies into associative trains of slights directed at her daughter; Jin’s switch-ups of pace and her delivery of these invective passages of dialogue are superb. Likewise, Hao underplays against Jin, who goes for the higher notes of anguish, by keeping within all the emotions her scene-partner lets out: a late scene, involving a key disclosure, frames Hao to the right third of the widescreen frame, clenching her fists in discomfort. For the first hour, Yang’s film develops a tightening triangulation of the three Guo women, grounded in a calm, well-designed sequence shot style, lacking in ostentation. But there’s an encroaching dream imagery (one part of it linking to the film’s title) that isn’t totally convincing, and as it becomes more insistent the film’s dramatic pulse grows weaker. Because Spring Tide never fleshes out the particulars of Jianbo’s profession (her mother’s boyfriend tells her he thinks “journalists are the conscience of a country”), she has no release from this internecine filial conflict, and so the necessity for a late-in-the-day monologue must be admitted: but its exact expression is underwhelming, notwithstanding a graceful staging—all of it framed in the reflection of a hospital window. But, despite the film’s plan not coming to fruition, there’s more than enough in Spring Tide to inspire a curiosity about what Yang Lina does next. 

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