Helmer Liu Jiayin's family un-drama "Oxhide" has been gathering awards at festivals worldwide, accompanied by often portentous statements hailing it as the most important Chinese film in recent years. Much of the self-important hyperbole places an impossible burden on both Liu and the film.

Since first making a splash at the 2005 Berlinale, helmer Liu Jiayin’s family un-drama “Oxhide” has been gathering awards at festivals worldwide, accompanied by often portentous statements hailing it as the most important Chinese film in recent years. While pic is both innovative and challenging, much of the self-important hyperbole places an impossible burden on both Liu and the film. Surprisingly involving minimalist look at the helmer’s family — or a carefully scripted version thereof — plays with cinematic expectations, making it ideal fest fare but far too rarefied for public consumption.

Working in a formalist experimental style with zero budget, Liu uses a stationary DV camera and only 23 shots of irregular lengths within the restricted confines of her family’s 540-square-foot apartment. The plot, such as it is, involves the family’s financial concerns over the handbag business run by Liu father (Liu Zaiping). Pic’s real subject is family interaction at its most basic. Camera setups start on undistinguishable objects that become recognizable once characters use the tight space, made to feel even more claustrophobic by widescreen. Real surprise is how much humor and warmth Liu effortlessly incorporates within the rigid structure.

Oxhide

China

Production

International sales: MK2 diffusion, Paris. Directed, written by Liu Jiayin.

Crew

Camera (color, DV, widescreen), Liu. Reviewed at Tromso Film Festival (competing), Jan. 19, 2006. Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Liu Zaiping, Jia Huifen, Liu Jiayin.
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