In Love We Trust / 左右
It always boggles my mind how the translation of film titles are handled in Asian cinema. Perhaps as a native speaker, I find certain attempts to simplify or “westernize” a perfectly fine, poignant Chinese title into English abhorrent. Perhaps, certain meanings that lie inherent in the Chinese characters simply can not be translated without losing lustre. Here is such a case where the original title: 左右, which literally translates to “Left, Right,” is perfectly symbolic of the film, and should have been, in my opinion, preserved (precedent: Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution”).
Instead, the film is known as In Love We Trust (2008), and tells a story of love, trust, sacrifice, and the gives and takes between the three. Directed by Wang XiaoShuai, the film premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival and went on to win the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay. This surprised me because the writing, though competent, is not the particular highlight of the film for me. The story is a simple one. We meet an ordinary family living in BeiJing, China: mother, father, single child. The mother is Mei Zhu (WeiWei Liu), a gentle woman with a polite demeanor who works for a realtor company. The father is only introduced as Lao Xie, or “Old Xie”, a kind of easy nickname reserved for those with kind eyes who always seem more like uncles rather than neighbours, played by TaiSheng Chen. The daughter is HeHe (pronounced “HerHer”), an adorable 5 year old played by ChuQian Zhang.
The first time we see HeHe she lies in bed, a ravenous cloud of hair splashed across the pillow, and we learn she has a fever. Mei Zhu and Lao Xie huddle over her and talk in quiet, short sentences between each other while trying to mask their panic. The fever has been going on for a while, and they are not sure whether they should go to the hospital. It is a low-key scene and not much is said, but the weight of illness looms heavy on the horizon, and are soon realized at the hospital. We see a long shot down a long corridor, where at its end a doctor in white coat speaks with Mei Zhu shortly, and then leaves. She reacts as a mother would. We never hear a word, nor do we see the expression on their faces, and she takes no more than a few steps, but it is more effective than many other hospital news-breaking scenes that provide all of the above. Our imagination paints more than we need to know. Everything lies in the unsaid.
HeHe has leukemia, and the story continues as it must. We meet Xiao Lu (JiaYi Chang), the biological father of HeHe. He and Mei Zhu have been divorced for four years, and the worse news possible forces a meeting between them. They are on polite terms, but we sense that the reunion is not something that either wishes for under any circumstances. History would have been best left unfaced.
Then, bad turns to worse. HeHe desperately needs a bone marrow transplant and both parents are no match. The best hope, the doctor advises Mei Zhu, lies in finding a match in a blood sibling of HeHe, and from that arises the drastic measure that forms the emotional heart of the story: having another baby to save her current one.
I took my time getting to this point, because the film takes its time too. Some reviews have lamented about the slow pace of the film, and I do agree to a certain extent — that the last third of the film could have been more emotionally sharpened and tightly edited. However, what I enjoyed about this film, and what I believe makes it work, is the patience it took to build up to the central dilemma of its characters. It is all the more important because we know that it is coming. We see it looming. And every second that ticks by winds our anxiety and adds to the sense of urgency, and makes the weight of that decision so much more torturous.
So what happens? Xiao Lu has a new wife: Dong Fan (Nan Yu), a young flight attendant who is desperate to have a child of her own, and after knowing her, you understand. Lao Xie, Mei Zhu’s current husband, is in her words, “the best man that god has blessed me with.” He loves HeHe as his own, gently but firmly keeps Mei Zhu from falling apart, and is the glue of their family. Even HeHe has her own secret, which she reveals at a most unexpected time in the hospital, and capsizes the emotional guage in one man.
Love. Trust. Sacrifice. What is the correct way to juggle all three? What gives, and what takes? Mei Zhu loves HeHe the way a mother loves her daughter – fiercely, regretlessly, endlessly. Lao Xie loves HeHe the way a father loves his daughter – selflessly, wholeheartedly. Mei Zhu and Lao Xie love each other – quietly, deeply. None of these are exaggerated or even emphasized directly. There are only two scenes where Mei Zhu hugs HeHe, but both times she does it with such intensity that it is enough. Sometimes, the quietest cry is the strongest of all. WeiWei Liu deserved her win as Best Actress at the 2008 Pula Film Festival. TaiSheng Chen should have been nominated for his equally valuable portrayl.
What particularly stood out for me here is the use of symbols. The color red highlights a breathtaking climax towards the end of the film. Two different shades of red also dress the two women in Xiao Lu’s life in the scene immediately after: one a brighter shade, one a darker shade. One current, one past. Then there is the apartment that would never sell, that despite proper furnitures, somehow never fits the lives that pass through its doors. Then there are the cellphones, which though gimmicky in establishing one of the plotlines, seems to cry out an important point: sometimes we call our loved ones, and though we have the correct number, the call is never answered. Sometimes, we never meant to initiate the calls, and they are answered. Fate is fickle. So are its people.
The film begins with a view from within a moving car (which for a moment, reminded me of a similar wordless scene in “Cache”). It moves silently down the streets. A voice calls out briefly: left. And then: right. We realize they are directions, yet we have no idea where they are going. In the end of the film, the same scene is repeated, and this time the context is clear: we know who are in the car, and we know where they are going. But…do they? And in the same vein…do we really? Left or Right, it only takes us down another street. The path is continous, and the destination is still unknown.
Love and trust, vague as they are, may be the only things that warm us, as we shed sacrifices along the way.
I received this film as part of my FilmMovement subscription, which I consider the best $12.50 a month I have ever spent.