Einstein And Einstein
is a smart and assured cinematic drama from mainland China that is rife with underlying politics and cutting-edge metaphors.
When thirteen year old Li Wan (an incredible performance from Zhang Xueying) rebels against her estranged father for lying and breaking promises to her, he guiltily responds by buying her a puppy. The puppy is named Einstein and at first, driven by disdain for her dad, she neglects it. An unfortunate mishap occurs regarding the dog which reveals the inherent absurdity and lack of understanding between generations in China. This snowballs into even more events that paint a damning portrait of the brave new world of China's millennial generation as they work against the grain of the stubborn old ways valued in the system.
Director Cao Baoping infuses the story with a dark thriller tint that is highlighted by the cinematic nature of the film. The cinematography makes lean use of space, and there are some efficient sequences like a roller skating rink that switches perspectives between Li Wan, her cousin and her love interest. The film covers teenage life in China in an accurate way. The indie music, acts of rebellion and the way they speak to each other are all rarely seen in Chinese cinema to this authentic level. These scenes also reveal how disenfranchised they are. For instance, when Li Wan asks her cousin if she loves a boy her response is 'love is such an old fashioned word'.
The film stays firmly within the coming-of-age mould, we feel Li Wan's confusion, frustration and selfishness. However, the cultural slant and greater message within this context is what makes the film exceptional.
There is so much metaphor cleverly placed and revealed throughout the film. Firstly it is set in Xi'an China's oldest city, but the dogs themselves with their name and place in the household are a catalyst for this pot boiler. Additionally, Li Wan lives with her grandparents and they are extremely naive, part of an old generation of China that refuses to comment on current matters on television and hardly leave their home. There are also clashes of science and culture and a question of values inherent in the film. In one scene Li Wan anxiously waits for her father to take her to the planetarium, she is asked by an older uncle with more status what books she reads. She responds A Brief History of Time, to which he calls a children's book compared to what Confucius thought about the subject. Later as she runs to the planetarium the lights all turn off in the background, the new world has abandoned her again.
This all comes to a head with her father's new love interest and a two year old boy who is very naughty. His actions, innocent as they are are not reprimanded and they include hitting the dog and hurting his grandmother. A little care and compassion is easier to solve problems than work out a real solution and her father alternates between proud dad and stern moralist who would rather spoil the child and spare the rod.
China is changing and nobody is playing catch-up. Bolstered by impressive performances and piercing observations Einstein and Einstein delivers a chilling message about the state of the next generation and their place in a stubborn crumbling world.
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