SFF 2016 Review: Life After Life

Sydney Film Festival: Life After Life

This winner of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Firebird Award misses the tonal mark in an unconventional ghost story.

Everything is dead or dying in the industrial villages of young Leilei’s (Zhang Li) rural town, one of many such places across China that lay abandoned to memory and ghosts. Leilei is possessed by the spirit of his deceased mother, and matter of factly tells his father Mingchun (Zhang Mingjun) that she has returned to transplant a tree that she planted when she was younger. While much has been made of the wry humour and social commentary of LIFE AFTER LIFE, the film’s absurdism is so dry and detached as to miss the mark on more than one occasion. There’s a fatalism that hangs drearily over the film, including a disturbing sequence of prolonged animal slaughter, and those occasional moments of humour only serve to remind the audience how oppressive the decay of the rest of the narrative is. Where the film is most fascinating is around the attitudes towards reincarnation, including an hilarious journey of the father/husband and son/wife to find the returned spirit of their family’s grandfather, who has apparently returned as a dog. On a more philosophical level, the phrase “This life of yours completes mine” lingers long after the film. Yet the most apt metaphor for the film could be the vision of the duo trying to load the uprooted tree onto the back of their truck. Copying a method they’ve seen of a group aimlessly moving a rock, they slowly twist and turn the tree up a plank, but just as they are about to reach the top, the tree falls off and forces them to start again. It might be speaking to the cycle of death and rebirth, but it’s a perfect way of describing the viewing experience of LIFE AFTER LIFE.

2016 | China | DIR: Zhang Hanyi | WRITER: Zhang Hanyi | CAST: Zhang Li, Zhang Mingjun, Wang Jishan | DISTRIBUTOR: Sydney Film Festival (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes | RATING:★★½ (5/10)