Something of a quiet departure for Beijing cinema, “After Separation” is a cool-headed, compassionate look at the semi-romantic entanglement of two middle-class city dwellers, each of whom has lost a spouse to the Chinese travel bug. An arthouse find for those partial to Chinese films, pic is probably too slight to travel well.
Baseball-capped photographer Gu Yan (played with tense reserve by soulful-eyed Ge You) is first seen saying goodbye to his wife, who’s heading off to English school in Vancouver. Stoical while parting, he’s soon in the airport lounge, practically weeping in his Tsing Tao, when another would-be emigrant’s mate faints; the man runs to catch his plane, leaving pregnant Lin Zhouyan (feisty Xu Fan) in the startled Gu’s arms.
He takes her to the hospital and then home, but the two don’t quite hit it off. Instead, Lin starts her search for a magic exit visa, and Gu — a great cook and deft decorator — imposes his overweening charity on newly married friends who are soon screaming for him to “help” somebody else.
Despite their first impressions, Gu and Lin keep meeting accidentally, and when their other halves have been away for three years, they agree to spend the Spring Festival together, pretending (chastely) to be a married couple. All this coyness works, as first-time helmer Xia Gang keeps a dry, Ozu-like eye on his sour-sweet, chemistry-free romance while moving it through its tentative paces, leading smoothly to a subtly emotional payoff.
Tech credits are generally fine, with Wa Xtaoming’s understated framing of figures against tacky art, richly textured books and oversized buildings especially vivid. Dialogue looping, however, is of the ear-scraping, swallow and chew variety.