Review: Jet Lag – Cineuropa

– BERLINALE 2022: In his hybrid documentary-video essay, Zhen Lu Xinyuan seeks parallels between his COVID-19-related isolation and his family’s tracing of his roots

It is difficult to identify a narrative theme in Zhen Lu Xin Yuanit’s Jet lag [+see also:
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, but if we tried, it would be a feeling of isolation and abandonment. Premiering in the Forum section of the Berlinale, this part-documentary, part-video essay follows Xinyuan and his family on two major journeys: one deals with a world at a standstill after COVID-19 hit in 2020, while the other chronicles his family’s trip to Myanmar, where the director’s great-grandfather disappeared in the 1940s.

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“There is no main character,” Xinyuan’s girlfriend correctly observes at the start of the film. But again, how could there be? This is not the story of one person. It is a trauma as much individual as generational of which the director strives to scratch the surface. Shot with a simple old school black and white DV camera, the look of the film is reminiscent of a video diary. But there is a specific look at Xinyuan’s craft, as she locks down the banality of isolation decreed by COVID-19, and the hopeless feeling of family travel, as her grandmother follows in the footsteps of the father whom she could never let go.

Absent, violent or disinterested fathers are a recurring link between the characters. The internal isolation these experiences may have caused for Xinyuan, his girlfriend, and his grandmother slowly begins to move outward. Beginning the film in April 2020 in a small apartment in Graz, Austria, Xinyuan and her companion are stranded in the city with no flights to take her home to Hangzhou in China. A recurring phone screen shows how each flight continues to be delayed or canceled. The world is now only available on Google Maps.

The women begin to pass their time by observing the few pedestrians who still circulate in the streets of their neighborhood. Delivery services, essential workers are documented with a secret, nostalgic eye. The triviality of living in a confined space as well as its intimacy bleeds through every frame. Back in China, the use of hazmat suits by health workers may already sound like a page from a dystopian novel. Next thing you know, Xinyuan and her partner are once again confined to a quarantine hotel, with white suits completely covering their doors with duct tape.

These scenes are intercut with the family’s previous trip to Myanmar. The director deliberately lets these scenes blend into each other, keeping the viewer guessing at the timeline, or simply choosing to follow his restless but lethargic feel. A distant cousin is getting married. He is part of the family who, it seems, kept in touch with the great-grandfather. Between marriage and tourism, the family searches for the last traces of the man who has become for them a glorified and hated enigma. For clues as to why he did what he did. He is the father figure Grandma can’t help but admire.

Some, however, oppose this research. “Trivial matters,” Cousin Lin said. The idea of ​​who this man was should suffice, there is little to be gained from finding out about his life. And so, Xinyuan’s gaze finally turns to Myanmar itself, its historical roots in civil wars and the Spring Revolution that followed the latest military coup. Talking to a cousin, played for security reasons by an actress using AI technology, the young woman defends the introduction of democracy in the country and the promotion of protests in the streets.

Jet lag usually leaves a person lethargic due to the body’s need to adjust to a new rhythm. Xinyuan may feel this physically due to her journey from Europe to Asia. But there is also a change in the family, in the way it deals with its own past and present. Body in one place, soul in another, an effort to make sense of what has come and what is. A feeling of lethargy, a jet lag of the mind.

Jet lag was produced by Morning Ray and Shanshan Li. International sales are handled by Rediance.


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