The new Chinese film “In Love We Trust” has an irresistible premise, one you can easily imagine being sucked up into the Hollywood processing plant and molded into a hectic piece of polystyrene, either hysterically melodramatic or slapstickily comic. Simply: a divorced couple, both now married to others, discover their six-year-old has leukemia (admittedly, not the potentially funny part), and realize that her only chance for survival — for a bone marrow match — is for them to have another child together, therein jeopardizing both of their marriages. I don’t want to picture either version of the American remake, but Wang Ziaoshuai’s film is deliberately temperate, pensive, observational, and of course comes loaded with specifically Chinese contexts: the still-in-effect one-child policy is a barely acknowledged punitive barrier, however it is in conflict (like so many official positions) with the rise of the Chinese urban middle class.
Unlike the other recent Chinese films worth seeing (Jia Zhang-ke’s), Wang’s is all about character: the mother, Mei Zhu (Liu Weiwei), is a watchful, brittle woman who works as a realtor, showing the same oversized apartment to reluctant renters; her husband (Chen Taisheng) is an unambitious freelance designer whose reflexive reaction to everything is a battery of embarrassed grins; the ex-husband/father, Xiao Lu (Zhang Jia-yi), is a self-centered man’s-man contractor building an unfunded apartment edifice (the fringes of the film are fraught with indications of emptiness and overdevelopment); and his wife (Nan Yu) is a vain but woundable stewardess wondering when it’ll be her turn to have a child. Wang doesn’t emphasize the foursome’s differences; they’re all equally at sea, suddenly caught in a conundrum where their middle-class equilibrium and happiness is considered expendable for the life of one little girl.
Wang leaks the information out so realistically that “In Love We Trust” (a dire title, but not much worse than the accurate translation, “Right Left”) ends up taking its sweet time, and thankfully never seizes the opportunities that arise to jerk tears. (“This scandal will get us on TV,” the husband says in the only line that comes close to being ironic.) The fuel is acting: Liu won Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival in 2008, and she’s a hypnotizing piece of work. Seriously beautiful, achingly vulnerable, Liu is one of those actors who, when they do nothing so much as simply look at a co-star, can freeze time. In fact, as Wang’s movie avoids a good deal of verbal drama, it capitalizes on what you could call optical drama: the silent tension of watching a character watch someone else, and understanding the plethora of ambiguities and conflicts brimming inside. (Nan Yu’s childless glam-girl stewardess has her moment, ready for a confrontation with her hubby’s ex but glued to the sick daughter when she’s brought into the room.) I regret a Spielberg-style gotcha plot-plant that gives the movie its final-act wallop (which hits the sweet spot nonetheless), and I worry about East Asia in general — Christ, how those people smoke. But Wang’s movie does everything it can with its loaded premise except play it cheap, and for that it’s one of the year’s best DVD releases.
Extramarital vodeo-o-do-do and parental doubt is the crucible at the heart, too, of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Une Femme Mariée” (A Married Woman) (1964). If you were asked to name the 15 features Godard made between 1960 and 1967 — still the most thunderous run in cinema history — this might be the one you’d forget. Subtitled “Fragments of a film shot in 1964… in black… and white,” “A Married Woman” has all the formal and attitudinal earmarks of classic-period Godard, but it also possesses a distinct narrative focus and a uniquely grim and despairing tone.
No hijinks here, and no Anna Karina — “Alphaville” and “Pierrot le Fou” were to follow quickly, but the filmmaker’s famous marriage was already dissolving. You can see the fresh scabs here, as his eighth full-length film considers in relentless detail the not-unsympathetic amoral faithlessness of a young French wife (Macha Méril, a piercingly lovely fleshpot of a girl who is still a busy actress, producer, writer and French culture gadfly), who bounces from lover to husband and back again. It’s fragmented: whispered interior narration, abstracted lovemaking sessions (thighs, back, belly; the censors made Godard cut the frontal nudity), logorrheic episodes in which all three characters, plus three bystanders (including the heroine’s young stepson) hold forth on the philosophies of love and personal meaning. Then the woman finds out she’s pregnant. Godard gets shockingly personal here, and infidelity isn’t a plot device, but the object of inquiry; of course there are no answers, just subjectivity.