Burning
Tesnota
First Man
Transit (Christian Petzold over)
Living the Light — Robby Müller (Claire Pijman over)
Distances

A Fallible Girl

United Arab Emirates/China/United Kingdom, 2013 | Conrad Clark
Cristina Álvarez López checked in from Barcelona to see A Fallible Girl from the United Arab Emirates (among others), and finds a film which foreground a distance that the cinema of globalisation often suppresses.

I have never been to Dubai, but somebody once told me that its airport is, in itself, like a small, self-contained city. Shopping centres and services of every kind employ a large part of the local population; the traffic of passengers passes in a constant flow. Apparently, to get from one spot to another in this airport is unlike any similar place: disembarking from a plane and then locating the boarding gate for the next flight can be an arduous task, truly a long-distance marathon. This information never left my mind while I watched A Fallible Girl because, if there is anything that defines the film in all its aspects, it is precisely this: distances.

First, there is the distance that rules the daily life of the protagonist, Lifei (Sang Juan). From the tiny apartment that she shares with her friend Yaya (Luang Hu) in a densely populated Dubai suburb to the mushroom farm found somewhere in the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Or: the distance from either of these two locations to the elegant home of Lifei's boyfriend (Arthur Molinier), situated in a constructed tourist zone near the beach. If we observe the contrast between these three scenarios, we will realise that the distance separating them all is not merely physical: this is one of the keys to unlocking the film.

We know that Lifei is a Chinese woman living in Dubai. Her strong, obstinate nature, sometimes brutally unfriendly, does not prevent us from nurturing genuine affection for her. Sang Juan is the perfect choice to play this part: moving comfortably in her skin, exuding a rare authenticity, she is able to show us the emotional ups-and-downs and struggles of this character — without excessive sentimentality, or resorting to facile tricks. But who is Lifei, really? It is a question we will pose several times during the course of the film; to answer it, we will need to pay strict attention to the canny two-step with which Clark — already a contender in Rotterdam's 'Bright Future' section with his debut feature, Soul Carriage (2006) – articulates his new work: while A Fallible Girl's narration, on the one hand, opts for a long-range distance, its mise-en-scène, on the other hand, is constructed with the shortest possible distances.

At one extreme, the camera stays close to its protagonist, pins her in claustrophobic close-ups, completely involved with her existential unease and the city's bustle. Raquel Núñez Fernández's splendid cinematography creates a film filled with glare, glitter and saturated light — all filtered colour, blurred and nebulous images. This entire aesthetic arsenal, linked with the pervasive sense of indeterminacy conveyed by the soundtrack and the editing, works to create a state of constant suspension that envelops the film as a whole — modifying, as well as adding something new to, its seemingly realist approach.

At the other extreme, A Fallible Girl refuses to conform to traditional narration: it denies us access to the protagonist's backstory, by not condensing her life-story into an information-packet that would allow us to comfortably situate ourselves in relation to her personal history. Instead of this, the film hurls us into Lifei's immediate present, confronts us with her daily life, and forces us to reconstruct everything that is presented only in the form of flashes, short glimpses, commentaries caught on the fly, ellipses and conjectures... Answers about the protagonist's past, her history, will have to be sought in the sole certainties that the present moment offers: in Lifei's movements, the decisions she makes on the spot, in the way she interacts with others...

Again, from an emotional perspective, this is a film marked by distances. The distance between Lifei and her family; between Lifei and her boyfriend (a French guy who is constantly travelling for work reasons, about whom we will learn only after the first half-hour); and, above all, between Lifei and her friend Yaya. In A Fallible Girl — and this is among its most interesting aspects — friendship is stripped of any aura of romanticism. Here too, there is an intriguing game of distance: Lifei and Yaya share an apartment, sleep in the same bed, eat from the same plate — but there is an abyss separating them. It is not simply a case of different personalities; rather, each of them pursues a lifestyle ruled by their own obsessions. Yaya belongs to the night, Lifei to the day. Yaya's world is the club where she works, a reality associated with beauty, luxury, the social sphere; while Lifei puts all her effort into developing her business venture, and cultivating her independence. Both — each in their own way — need the other; at the same time, there is, in both, an intrinsic solitude that can be neither shared nor accommodated by the other. The distance between them is a matter of different dreams, of horizons pointing to opposite roads.

Directly or indirectly, A Fallible Girl is a film about globalisation — as well as a film that is itself the result of globalisation. It is a co-production between the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and China; the director is British, his DOP Spanish, the two main actors of Chinese origin — and the crew boasts representation from fifteen different nationalities. However, despite the fact that it is a clear example of transnational cinema, and that it openly tackles the problematic of capitalism in our globalised world, A Fallible Girl adroitly circumvents all the moves common in this kind of film — introducing us, instead, to a central character who fails to fit any of the cinematic stereotypes of this sort of project.

Lifei is not a maladaptive migrant (quite the contrary: she moves securely in a country that is not hers, but that she appears to know well); she does not correspond to the prototype of the weak, dependent female (but neither is she cold and calculating — work obsession does not turn her into a self-sufficient person, and nor it does not prevent her from finding some happiness in love, or plunging into sorrow when the relationship with her boyfriend breaks up). And, above all, Lifei is not some exploited worker struggling to survive to raise a family; nor is she wealthy, accustomed to the glamorous life. The specific variant upon which this movie is based has been hardly explored in cinema, and — despite the fact that real life hands us no shortage of referents with which to compare Lifei's economic situation — it is clear that, as spectators, we are not yet used to the image of capitalism that this film offers, since it does not correspond with any of the extreme ways that cinema usually depicts it.

What A Fallible Girl very precisely does is to place in the foreground this distance that, very often, the cinema of globalisation suppresses or eliminates altogether. Perhaps this is the reason that it takes us a while to accept this woman who employs various men (or exploits them: but she is neither a Good Samaritan nor someone who turns into an unscrupulous predator) indeed lives in an apartment building — a dwelling which is neither large nor luxurious, and is situated in one of those blocks of stolid flats, industrial and hardly elegant — and survives on kebabs and sandwiches, while doing her business accounting in a small notebook.

The film's ending, despite its bitterness, avoids tragedy (here, tragedy is a constant possibility, a threat, an alarm that overlays its images, in a suggestion of the fragility of things). Lifei wants to go back to her homeland to say goodbye to her grandmother (who is seriously ill), but debts keep her stuck in Dubai: her business is thriving, but she needs more time to repay a loan. Once again, the problem is a matter of distance. Lifei 'falls' as a consequence of her bad calculation of the real distance that her life-leap requires. And right here is the difference — the distance — between a fall-ible girl and one who is in-fallible. When archival images of the city invade the screen before the final credits, the feeling that seizes the spectator is one of sadness and melancholia: sadness because the distance between past and present — so-called progress — is measured in abstract figures and in broken promises; melancholia for an era when dreams of prosperity were maybe at once simpler and more humble... but when the distance between dream and realisation was not yet a full-blown mirage.

Cristina Álvarez López
Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Martin.



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A Fallible Girl

Filmkrant #351, February 2013

Slow Criticism 2013

Titelindex


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F

F FOR FAKE
LE FABULEUX DESTIN D'AMÉLIE POULAIN
Faccia a faccia
FACE
The Face of an Angel
The Face of Love
FACE/OFF
FACES
Facing Mirrors
FACTORY GIRL
FACTOTUM
THE FACULTY
Fading Gigolo
FADOS
FAIL SAFE
FAILURE TO LAUNCH
FAIR GAME (Andrew Sipes)
FAIR GAME (Doug Liman)
Fair Wind (Fahrtwind)
FAIRUZ — WE HIELDEN ZOVEEL VAN MEKAAR
FAIRY TALE — A TRUE STORY
Faith Connections
FAITHFUL
FAITHLESS
FALCONE
FALKENBERG FAREWELL
THE FALL
FALL TIME
FALLEN
FALLEN ANGELS
A Fallible Girl
FALLING DOWN
DIE FÄLSCHER
FAME
FAMILIA RODANTE
FAMILIE
De familie Slim
FAMILIEGEHEIM
Familieweekend
La famille Bélier
A Family
FAMILY
A Family Affair
The Family Fang
FAMILY FILES
THE FAMILY MAN
A Family Quartet
THE FAN
FANFAN LA TULIPE
FANNY & ALEXANDER
FANTASIA 2000
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Four (Josh Trank)
FANTASTIC FOUR (Tim Story)
FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER
FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Les fantômes d'Ismaël
FAR AND AWAY
FAR FROM HEAVEN
Far from the Madding Crowd
FAREWELL
FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE
The Farewell Party
A Farewell to Arms
FARGO
FARINELLI, IL CASTRATO
Fashion Chicks
FAST & FURIOUS
FAST & FURIOUS 5
Fast & Furious 6
Fast & Furious 7
Fast & Furious 8
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS
FAST AND THE FURIOUS 3
FAST FOOD FAST WOMEN
Fata morgana
Fataal (Jesse Bleekemolen over)
FATAL REACTION: BOMBAY
FATAL REACTION: NEW YORK
FATAL REACTION: SINGAPORE
FATELESS
FATHER AND SON (OTETS I SIN)
Father Figures
FATHER OF THE BRIDE PART 2
FATHER'S DAY
FATHERLAND
The Fault in Our Stars
Faust (Aleksander Sokoerov)
FAUST (F.W. Murnau)
FAUST (LECKE FAUST)
FEAR
Fear and Desire
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
THE FEAR INSIDE ME
FEARLESS (Peter Weir)
FEARLESS (Ronny Yu)
Fedora
FEEL THE NOISE
FEELING MINNESOTA
FEESTJE!
FELICE...FELICE...
FELICIA'S JOURNEY
Félicité
Félix & Meira
FÉLIX ET LOLA
FELLINI DVD-BOX
FEMALE PERVERSIONS
LA FEMME DE GILLES
FEMME FATALE
LES FEMMES DE 6ÈME ETAGE
LES FEMMES... OU LES ENFANTS D'ABORD
Fences
Ferdinand
FERIEN
FERNGULLY, THE LAST RAINFOREST
FESTEN
FESTIVAL EXPRESS
Feuchtgebiete
Feuten: het feestje
FEVER PITCH
A Few Best Men
A FEW GOOD MEN
FEW OF US
Le fidèle
Fidelio
A Field in England
FIERCE CREATURES
Fietsen naar de maan
De fietser
FIETSMUG & DANSMUG
THE FIFTH ELEMENT
The Fifth Estate
FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING
Fifty Shades Darker
Fifty Shades of Black
Fifty Shades of Grey
FIGHT CLUB
THE FIGHTER
FIGHTING
Fighting fish
THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS
Figlia mia
FIGNER, THE END OF A SILENT CENTURY
LE FIL DE L'HORIZON
Fill the Void
LA FILLE D'ARTAGNAN
La fille de Brest
LA FILLE DE L'AIR
LA FILLE DU RER
La fille inconnu
LA FILLE SUR LE PONT
LES FILLES DU BOTANISTE
A Film About Coffee
FILM IST. A GIRL & A GUN
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
De film van Dylan Haegens
A FILM WITH ME IN IT
FILMPJE!
THE FILMS OF ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY
THE FILMS OF JEAN ROLLIN
THE FILMS OF KENNETH ANGER VOLUME TWO
LE FILS
Le fils de Jean
Le fils de l'autre
LE FILS DE L'EPICIER
THE FILTH AND THE FURY
FIN AOÛT, DÉBUT SEPTEMBRE
THE FINAL CURTAIN
FINAL DESTINATION
THE FINAL DESTINATION
FINAL DESTINATION 2
FINAL DESTINATION 3
Final Destination 5 3D
FINAL FANTASY VII
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN
Final Portrait
FIND ME GUILTY
Finding Dory
FINDING FORRESTER
FINDING NEMO
Finding Nemo 3D
FINDING NEVERLAND
Finding Your Feet
THE FINE ART OF LOVE
Fine, Thanks (Dakujem, dobre)
The Finest Hours
LA FINESTRA DI FRONTE
Finn
IL FIORE DELLE MILLE E UNA NOTTE
FIORILE
FIRE
FIREFLIES IN THE GARDEN
FIREWALL
THE FIRM (Alan Clarke)
THE FIRM (Sydney Pollack)
FIRST KILL
FIRST KNIGHT
First Man
FIRST MISSION
The First Purge
First Reformed
FIRST STRIKE
THE FIRST WIVES CLUB
THE FISH FALL IN LOVE
FISH TANK
Fissa
Fist Fight
Five Came Back
FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN
THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS
THE FIVE SENSES
The Five-Year Engagement
FIXING IN THE SHADOW
FL 19,99
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS
FLAMENCO, FLAMENCO
Flandres
DE FLAT
Flatliners
FLAWLESS
FLED
LA FLEUR DU MAL
UN FLIC
Flight
FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX
FLIGHTPLAN
THE FLINTSTONES
THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS
FLIPPER
FLIRT (Hal Hartley)
FLIRT (Jaap van Eyck)
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER
Flits & het magische huis 3D
FLOATING LIFE
THE FLOCK
FLODDER 3
Florence Foster Jenkins
The Florida Project
FLORIS
FLUBBER
FLUSHED AWAY
FLY AWAY HOME
Flypaper
Focus (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa)
FOCUS (Neal Slavin)
FOEKSIA DE MINIHEKS
THE FOG
THE FOG OF WAR
La folie Almayer
FOLIE PRIVÉE
FOLLOWING
FONS RADEMAKERS DVD-BOX
FOOL'S GOLD
Footloose
Footnote
FOR FUN
FOR LOVE OF THE GAME
FOR MY BABY
FOR ROSEANNA
For Those in Peril
THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM
THE FORBIDDEN QUEST
The Forbidden Room (Previously Unreleased)
FORCE OF EVIL
FORCES OF NATURE
FOREIGN LAND
The Foreigner
The Forest
FOREVER
FOREVER FEVER
FOREVER YOUNG
Forget Me Not
FORGET PARIS
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
The Forgiveness of Blood
FORGOTTEN SILVER
THE FORGOTTEN SPACE
Formula 1
FORREST GUMP
FORTRESS
FORTY GUNS
The Founder
THE FOUNTAIN
THE FOUNTAINHEAD
FOUR BROTHERS
FOUR DAYS IN SEPTEMBER
FOUR EYED MONSTERS
THE FOUR FEATHERS
Four Lions
FOUR ROOMS
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL
FOURBI
THE FOX AND THE CHILD
Foxcatcher
Foxfire
Foxtrot
FRACTURE
FRAGILE
FRAILTY
LA FRANCE
Frances Ha
Francofonia
FRANÇOIS OZON DVD-BOX
Frank (Lenny Abrahamson over)
FRANK CAPRA COLLECTION
FRANK ZAPPA: PHASE II — THE BIG NOTE
Frankenweenie
Franny
FRANS ZWARTJES, THE GREAT CINEMA MAGICIAN
Frantz
Die Frau des Polizisten
FRAUDS
FREAKY FRIDAY
FRED CLAUS
FREDDY THE FROG
FREDDY VS. JASON
Free Birds
Free Fire
Free in Deed
Free Range (Retrospectief Veiko Õunpuu)
Free State of Jones
FREE WILLY
FREE WILLY 2
FREEDOM
FREEDOM WRITERS
Freeheld
DER FREIE WILLE
DIE FREMDE
FRENCH KISS
FREQUENCY
FRESA Y CHOCOLATE
FRESH
FRESH AIR
FRIDA
FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)
FRIENDS
The Friends of Eddie Coyle
Friends with Benefits
Friends with Kids
Fright Night
THE FRIGHTENERS
DIE FRISEUSE
Frits & Franky
FRITZ LANG COLLECTION
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN
FROM HELL
FROM PARIS WITH LOVE
FROM THE JOURNALS OF JEAN SEBERG
FROST/NIXON
FROWNLAND
Frozen (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee)
FROZEN (Wang Xiaoshuai)
The Frozen Ground
FROZEN LAND
FROZEN RIVER
Frozen Sing-A-Long
Fruitvale Station
FUCKING ÅMÅL
FUDOH
THE FUGITIVE
DE FÛKE
Fukushima, mon amour
Full Contact
FULL FRONTAL
THE FULL MONTY
FUN WITH DICK AND JANE
THE FUNERAL
FUNNY BONES
FUNNY GAMES U.S.
FUNNY HA HA
FUNNY PEOPLE
Fuocoammare
FUR: AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS
THE FURIES
Fury
The Fury of a Patient Man
The Future
Il futuro