Director: Xinyang Zhang
Writer: Xinyang Zhang
Cast: Mingrui Yu
Running time: 20mins
This is to having a housemate what Experience the World: The Train was to public transport. Except that Experience the World was ironic, and deliberately delivering a ‘careful what you wish for’ warning about lockdown-era wishes for a return to ‘normality’. It’s not clear exactly why Farewell to my Love wanted to make life with A Si (Mingrui Yu) quite so unattractive – but if that was the goal, then Xinyang Zhang passes with flying colours.
Set in an apartment during the Covid-19 lockdown era, Farewell to my Love manages to be both mind-numbingly tedious and an unwelcome assault on the senses. Set in a suburban area a stone’s throw from a huge nature reserve of some kind, the bulk of the story takes place in the confines of A Si’s studio flat. Most of the soundtrack is subsequently characterised by the dull hum of A Si’s apartment, the relentless drone gradually burrowing into your subconscious, lulling you into the expectation that this is all there is.
With A Si finding an early attempt to break lockdown rules and escape into the park thwarted, the plot is apparently supposed to foreground A Si’s longing for a return to nature. In that case, you might think that the thing to break us out of this trance would be some kind of encroaching element of the wilderness giving him and us a welcome reprieve from the sterile buzz of refrigerators and air conditioners drilling into our skulls. Sadly, you would be wrong – as the only thing dissecting this deafening silence is the most screamingly annoying set of sound-effects that you could ever hope to assemble. Several of them come directly from A Si.
The endless whirr of life indoors formerly felt like a curse – but as soon as the first shrieking interjection from A Si’s door comes into play, we begin longing to return to the fuzzy aural womb that it provided. As soon as A Si begins stomping his feet around his echoing house in a rather half-hearted attempt to exercise, we begin begging for a return to the state we are meant to be cheering for him to escape from. That’s even before he begins obnoxiously slurping from a soup bowl that might as well be a trough. (I concede this last one is cultural, and slurping may be considered a compliment to the chef in China, where this film is from. I still think the chef is a little too proud of his own work in that case, but others are free to disagree.) This is not a film for a sufferer of misophonia. It is not a film for anyone who has been trapped sharing a house with someone they cannot stand, either… And that weeds out quite a large cross-section of possible viewers.
It didn’t have to be this way though. With A Si’s mind again turning to the wealth of wildlife on his doorstep, the noises which interrupt the doldrums of his man-made hell could have been drawn from nature. They could have crept into his psyche and prompted flights of fancy which would have both endeared him to us and motivated us to care about his continued attempts to trade the housing blocks surrounding him for trees.
Xinyang Zhan could have done all that – and done it in significantly less time than the 20-minute slog he has subjected us to. But instead, he delivered an oh-so-inviting offer of being marooned with the world’s most irritating man, for what feels like a year.
To be fair to Xinyang Zhan, I do not know what the director was ultimately aiming for here. Being cooped up in lockdown with anyone is enough to have you zero in on anyone’s imperfections, in a way that is not remotely their fault, and there are definitely the bones of a film in commenting on that modern cabin fever. In this case, though, the intensely annoying meat of the film seems to have undermined the actual primary aim, of getting us to relate to a man yearning for a life between four narrowly placed walls.