Toronto, Canada

TIFF Bell lighthouse in Toronto Canada, welcomed acclaimed Sino Canadian film maker Luo Li to the Canadian world stage  and played host to honor the Bespoke Auteur collective works  from June 11th  to  the 14th.  2015. His titled retrospective “You Can’t Go Home Again” is breathtakingly illuminating.

Wuhan, China born film maker Luo Li quickly accelerated his career with 4 films in six years after graduating with a BFA and MFA from York University’s film programme. Li using his immigrant insights craftily creating a body of work that illustrates the concept of indistinct chatter. Li’s films use a visual spectrum that strobes through documentary, fiction, experimental and narrative and using his Sino-Canadian perceptions merging worlds with characters and concepts that loosely use paradigms of immigration, modernization and urbanization. Li’s bespoke auteurs tools, chisels out a niche that has been applauded globally to award winning effect.

His niche approach  has catapulted his works to be viewed nationally and internationally including TIFF Cinematheque, the Images Festival, Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma,and  the Rotterdam International Film festival, just to name drop a few houses that admire and support his work.

Rivers and My Father (2010),  his follow up from his feature, “I Went to The Zoo the Other Day”,   won the Jury Prize at the 7th China Independent Film Festival and the Image Prize at the 2011 Images Festival, his third film Emperor Visits the Hell won the Dragons & Tigers Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

The Bespoke Auteur with the walk softly but carry a  big stick aura has delivered his subtle brand of the austere cinematic visuals that detachedly examine the inter relationships between homo sapiens and its interconnected and requisite need to examine flora and fauna within their relationship to the natural environment.  It is that simplicity of focus that tweaks the viewer’s curiosity in viewing an environment that resembles the natural world, but is in fact completely fabricated. Its childlike naivety plays into such a storyline as Anderson’s, The Emperor has new Clothes phenomena.  It’s a stark look at reality without any bells or whistles, nor caprices of lighting or effects, just the simplicity of a camera capturing a moment. A moment that may not have existed. It’s that chimera, that illusory effect that has set Luo li apart.

His work seems to reference his inner world and an inner process based on a boiled down relationship to Confucianism about sharing the inner workings of the private issues of the spiritual mind? This is a reference to China and the thinking is that perhaps he is wired (DNA) to explore the world in exactly the way he is doing?  This led to an exquisite discussion that explores this moment in time in Li’s development. We, as artists grow and Li highlights his growth as a filmmaker in this tete a tete.

Luo Li:  I’m always concerned with the form while making my films. I think form is related to or reflects our inner world. Many filmmakers tend to or try to create a world in their works in which their inner beings can breathe or live. So yes, in a way, my films have certain spiritual quality, although I don’t think they have very close connection with Confucianism. I’m interested in spirituality, but I have influences from various sources: some of them are rooted in Chinese culture, but there are also non-Chinese thoughts or ideas that fascinate me.

While this response may be true it does harken back to another “Luo Li”  a social political analyst whose treatise drives a look into this classic need to expose what is deep, what is sacred, what is traditional to China and a China heavily vested in Confucianism for good and for bad. Where tradition is now impoverished with great corruption. In Emperor Visits the Hell, Li adapts a classic sixteenth century Ming Dynasty tale, transported to Wuhan circa 2014.

The story’s oxymoronic incoherence and symmetry defines, Li’s inventive fable, vis a vis a scathing critique of bureaucracy and corruption in modern Chinese society. It’s once fabled ascended past, provided a powerful juxtaposition of the Chinese intellectual system being influenced by its traditional culture. This was considered a collective passive mindset , though once accepting has now rebelled as society has recognized it has sunk into an abyss. You Can’t Go Home Again, indeed.

When Li was asked which one of films, if he could choose? Which one is his favorite and which he thinks his masterpiece? They may differ and please state the reasons.

Li responded with,”  My favorite is always my first feature, I went to the zoo the other day. Because I did not know or fear anything while making the first film, and watching it always brings back a lot of bittersweet memories. My latest film, Li Wen at East Lake is a more complete work, although it is far from a masterpiece. I think it is closer to what I had wanted it to be. East Lake is a fantastic nature reserve area, close to the mega-city , Wuhan, China.

As avantgarde as Li is, he is aware that he is playing out a certain destiny in his films.

His latest film, Li Wen at East Lake, elaborates on man’s dysfunction from his earlier film, Emperor Visits the Hell,in its depiction of the verity despoliation of the once-beautiful East Lake nature reserve. Now a Chinese fiasco of theme parks and condominiums. Man is destroying man, history is just an advertising commodity of neon-classical illusion and cacophony as vintage communist party photographs and artifacts surrender to the ridiculous.  The films of Luo Li demonstrate that home, the concept of home of belonging or recognition of home may have relinquished its original meaning of a haven. This provocative thought bleeds through the conversation. I, in trying to pry into the complex and shadowed mind of this man, who at one hand is saying look at me but another saying, but not too closely, imposed another parameter of thought.

A quintessential question about the choosing of three famous people for a dinner party, he is the fourth. Who would he choose and why? Luo Li reveals, “I would choose, Camus, Flaubert and Wittgenstein. Can’t really explain why, sorry?!” He consciously chose Camus, Flaubert and Wittgenstein and at the same instance denied any reason. It was up to me as a sleuth into Li’s intellect to examine how these stalwarts of philosophy and this Bespoke Auteur connect. I had to know as he is showing us his brand of Auteur and yet hiding his raison d’etre.

Wittgenstein “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” This quote of Wittgenstein can be explained as by remaining silent, the guilty believe that those who have disappeared or ascended leave behind 98% of those imperfect ones. And this arises from Wittgenstein treatise on the picture theory of language. Li, may have used Wittgensteinian versed humility rather than adventure into further vocalized treatise of his own work ? Allowing others to follow his trail to understand the Zen Master. Is Li guilty or is he silent or an imperfect one? After all, he uses his films to speak, while he himself, appears a reluctant witness to his oeuvre.  As exampled in Li’s Still’s.

Li’s films speak of the imperfection and the silence rather than linger on the dogma of speech or  cinematic imperfection.  Li allows the silence within his pieces to speak. He visually speaks strongly of the disappearance of nature and the disappearance of values that once lent meaning to life to leave us with no way home. Just view Li’s Fly and Ornithology. These works feature the power that is in Li’s silence and its equivocal rendering of not belonging.

And this is the wow factor Camus, the brilliant philosopher speaks to Li’s strong notion of the absurd. Li, it seems uses Camus as a muse as the term “absurdity” can describe humanity’s futile attempt to find or in this create rational order where none exists. It would seem that Li, has glimpsed into a world that sees Nature as natural and man as absurd and that the Universe is irrational.  It can Bespoke that neither the external world in which Li lives nor the internal world of his thoughts and attitudes possesses any rational order. It’s just a considered raison d’etre, as seen in Li’s Rivers and my Father. It’s also an operating theme in Robert Bresson’s ,Carte Blanche; A man Escaped. Li will introduce this spell binding masterpiece where suspense becomes metaphysical.

As for Flaubert and Li, and his works perhaps the quote, “One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels”. Li struggles successfully in capturing that essence in his films. He and we can see his mastery but that feeling, the igniting spark that was his vision may not be captured entirely in any one work, it’s in the collection of his that his voice is best heard. The Bespoke Auteur is climbing a mountain to achieve the authenticity that he richly deserves, but it’s a mountain that he himself only knows and we his audience will simply wait.


Written by Cristoph De Caermicael,

Bangkok Thailand


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