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Q&A with Director LIU Miaomiao | 导演访谈:对话刘苗苗 – Mulan International Film Festival

Q&A with Director LIU Miaomiao | 导演访谈:对话刘苗苗

 In Interview

Red Flowers and Green Leaves will be presented at 2019 Mulan International Film Festival. Click here to get more information.

Starting up early, you used to be an active female director of Chinese Fifth Generation. But you stopped filmmaking for decades. Then you made a comeback and shot Red Flowers and Green Leaves. What motivated your comeback, and why this movie?

I am not quite into the film genres that prevail in today’s Chinese film industry. What I have been planned for is not movies from which investors would envision great commercial profit. I am fortunate enough to form ties with my current sponsor company (Bejing Zhongbeitongda Film&TV Culture Art Co., Ltd) to make Red Flowers and Green Leaves possible. Producer Mr. Gao Erdi encouraged me from the script creation stage and supported me through the whole production process. It is with his generous help that I can finish this film after years of absence.

It is a movie that intends to exhibit sincerity and pureness, both of which are rarely seen qualities on the current big screen. Plus, Islamism has been taken to extreme misperception worldwide. The conflict that leads to communication breakdown between divergent cultures may result from a lack of genuine conversation. I hope this movie provides a platform for such a conversation.

Tell us a bit about the main characters and the storyline. We hardly see films that cover issues of life conditions concerning Chinese Muslims.

The film tells an emotional story of a newlywed young couple, who live in a village in Northwest China where the Hui People, a minority made up of Chinese Muslims congregate and make a living. They have their respective secrets, and neither of them expect marriage. By family arrangement, they become wed. Since then, they have gone through gradual acceptance, then learned to face and take on their shared destiny.

The actors are all indigenous Hui Muslims and amateurs in performance. How did you decide on them, and what acting instructions did you give them?

To employ amateur Muslim actors is to achieve a realistic texture. From their appearance, they have discernible traits as Hui Muslims. Our actors were brought up in a religious ambience so that they naturally correspond with characters in the film. Comparatively speaking, professional non-Muslim actors can hardly achieve that.

From drafting my script, to arranging the visual expression, I tried to take the traits of non-professional actors into full account. The entire cast was introduced to me by my friends, and friends of theirs. They put forth substantial effort without great reward.

This film is adapted from writer Shi Shuqing’s novel, Cousin. What draws you to the story? What adaptation did you make when filming it?

It is the male protagonist that draws me to Cousin, in the short story. This character with mental illness really speaks to me. I have a medical history of psychosis, so I am very sympathetic towards those facing similar predicament. The movie actually dilutes the thick religious implications, and attempts to capture the day-to-day side of it. Thus, comparing to the original story, the movie is more dramatic.

Shi Shuqing is an excellent Muslim writer born where the story is set. Decades ago, I attempted to cooperate with him regarding another story of his, but regrettably failed. His work closely follows characters’ inner activities, plays down plots, and attaches great importance to detail, usually displaying a strong sense of humanistic care. It is indeed a challenge to present his story in the form of cinema. However, I welcome such an intriguing challenge.

The film is narrated by Gubo, the male protagonist. He is regarded as disadvantaged by other villagers. Even as an introvert with a sensitive mind, he keeps his resolution to be independent, and yet also dependable. It is a complicated character with anti-stereotypical sexual charm.

That’s right. Gubo is introverted and unpretentious by nature. He is gentle and humble, but neither weak, nor servile. He has self-respect without being masculinely bossy. In my mind, Gubo represents nobility of mind.

The film touches on many sensitive themes hardly seen in Chinese mainstream cinema, including arranged marriage, Chinese minorities, and the religion of Islam. But they are not what sells the film. What do you think about the living situation for today’s Chinese Muslims, and your identity as a Hui Muslim director?

In China, Islamic culture is marginal. Hui people who don’t live within the community in which the Hui people primarily live and gather together are comparatively better educated. I am from the city and have left the Hui communities at early age. Thus, even as a Hui Muslim, the ethnic identity doesn’t bring overly special impact on my life as well as on my films. If I had lived within the Hui communities, I wouldn’t have had the chance to enjoy education, or practice the arts, due to to early marriage.

As for stories involving arranged marriage, minorities, and other social issues, they are not the key themes. I intend to stress the characters and problems all human beings are confronted with, such as those in respect of self-evaluation, dignity, and responsibility.

The film is shot in your hometown. Is there any specific reason for that?

I was born in Yinchuan, Ningxia Province, and lived in Xihaigu, where the film is shot, for four years, from twelve to sixteen years old. These four years had huge influence on me. Xihaigu is also in Yinchuan, and is a typical Hui community of Chinese Hui Muslim. It was once on the list of the most uninhabitable places by UNESCO. However, thanks to its harshness, I learned to be strong, humble and compassionate.

Have you ever encountered obstacles during shooting?

I initiated the negotiation with my investors and we decided that the approximate budget for production was three-million yuan. I want to protect my investors’ interest and the best way to achieve it is cutting down cost. How to balance the low cost with high quality haunted me throughout the whole process.

The climate was unstable when we shot on location in Xihaigu and the weather forecast was always inaccurate. To take on non-professional actors meant more time needed for rehearsal, while we had to restrict the actual filming period for the sake of saving on expenses. Every day was a tough day. The shooting took twenty-seven days. After that, I frequently woke up from nightmares, the content of which was always about hindrances on set. But I knew that was what I should bear, because I chose to make the film and I had to persist.

There is another director aside from you, HU Weijie, who is also the director of cinematography. Please introduce this important person to us.

Co-director HU Weijie is my junior fellow. We both graduated from Beijing Film Academy. Many years ago, in a café in Beijing, when he was talking to his friends about a film he liked, I happened to be there and the film was my work, Family Scandal (Jia chou, 1994). That was how we met.

During that time, I was occasionally plagued by mental illness. HU Weijie had always been supportive. Even when my psychosis flared up and I had to be hospitalized for treatment, he could always reach me no matter how hard I tried to conceal myself. He would come to the hospital with his kind tease, seeming to suggest how naughty I was. His smile made me think what I got was nothing more than a cold, even when I was imprisoned behind doors.

HU Weijie understands why I want to make this film featuring a protagonist with slight mental illness. His companionship makes me feel secure. If I were to go mad, he would be there to help finish the film. Our co-direction is also a way to show our responsibility to the investors.

The film honestly divulges the status quo of Chinese minorities. What do you expect the audience to get from the film?

China is under development, so is the infertile land of Xihaigu. Compared to 1980s, residents in Xihaigu are leading a much better life there. The film respects this kind of positive change and renders the message that the Hui people there are casting off poverty. I hope the film has captured the reality and can make the audience believe that everything changes except for sincerity, humility, and deep compassion.


《红花绿叶》将于2019木兰国际电影节上映,详情请点击此链接

您是中国第五代导演,您的电影⽣涯很早就开始了,在《红花绿叶》之前,您有数年没有拍摄电影新⽚。请问为什么这么多年没拍⽚,又为什么想拍这个电影呢?

每个导演都有“短板”,“短板”也是个性。近些年中国电影畅⾏的影⽚类型,不拍的电影,我想拍的电影也不是⼤部分投资⽅能⼀眼看出商业利益的。这是多年没有拍摄新⽚的主要原因。有幸与北京中北通达结缘,《红花绿叶》得以成⽚。拍这部电影主要是想呈现真诚、质朴的艺术⽓质,从⽬前电影市场看,这种⽓质已属罕见。另外,深感从世界范围⽽⾔,伊斯兰教被极端化,同时也被误读。⽽任何冲突的缘由皆因缺乏真正的沟通,以及对彼此⽂化的理解。很想通过这部影⽚为此尽微薄之⼒。给我们透露⼀点本⽚的主要⼈物和故事。我们很少能够看到涉及中国穆斯林群体⽣存状态的影⽚。

影⽚讲述了两个⽣活在中国西北乡村的回族穆斯林青年男⼥的情感故事。婚前,他们都有着各⾃的隐情。⼀个不想聚,⼀个不愿嫁。在家⼈的极⼒撮合下,他们结婚了。此后,他们经历了彼此渐渐接纳,直到共同接受命运、担当命运的过程。影⽚启⽤的是全回族穆斯林演员,他们⼤多都是⾮职业演员,您如何考虑这⼀点?又是如何找到他们并指导他们的表演呢?

全部启⽤穆斯林⾮职业演员是为了让影⽚具有鲜明的⽣活质感。从外部形象说,这些演员本⾝回族穆斯林特征很明显,这是启⽤⾮穆斯林职业演员⽆法做到的。回族穆斯林⾮职业演员在家族宗教氛围中长期熏习,举⼿投⾜与影⽚⼈物⾃然接近。想让⾮职业演员完成⼈物,仅仅靠训练和拍摄中的启发是很难做到的。必须从剧本创作开始,选择适当的风格、类型,以及⾮职业演员可能完成的情感表达⽅式。在镜头语⾔语法的运⽤上,也要应对⾮职业演员的特点灵活把握。你问这些演员是怎么找到的吗?说实话,都是哄骗来的亲朋好友,按照伊斯兰教规,回族是不提倡演戏的。

影⽚是根据作家⽯舒清的⼩说《表弟》改编的,怎么选到这则故事?您做了怎样的影视化改编?能谈谈和⽯舒清的合作关系嘛?

⽯舒清的⼩说《表弟》最吸引我的是男主⼈公,这个有精神疾患的⼈物打动了我。我⾃⼰有精神病史,对这类患者的⽣存困境感同深受。影⽚淡化了⼩说原有的较浓重的宗教性,使之融⼊⽇常⽣活。影⽚较⼩说有了更強的故事性。⽯舒清是出⽣于故事发⽣地的优秀的穆斯林作家,⼗⼏年前,我和他曾就他的另⼀篇⼩说开始合作,由于种种原因合作未果。⽯舒清的⼩说关注⼈物内⼼、淡化故事,⾮常注重细节刻画,具有深切的⼈⽂关怀。⽤电影形式呈现他⼩说的样貌和内涵是有⼀定难度的,⽽这也恰恰是很吸引我的地⽅。

影⽚选择⽤男主⾓古柏的视⾓来讲述问题,这是⼀个被村民看作弱者的男性,⽽且他还是⼀个⼼思极为细腻的男性,但他又有⾃⼰的抗争性在,这种设定很有意思,您是有意识地在反转对性别的刻板印象嘛?

是的。男主⼈公古柏是内敛的、隐忍的。他温厚⽽不懦弱,⾃尊⽽不強势。在我⼼⽬中,古柏就是精神贵族。

⽚中涉及包办婚姻、少数民族、穆斯林⼈群等主流电影很少触碰的元素,但您并没有故意强调这些话题点,您是如何考虑的呢?您又如何理解中国当下的穆斯林⽣态和⾃⼰回族穆斯林导演的⾝份呢?

在中国,伊斯兰教属边缘⽂化,处于聚居地之外的回族穆斯林汉化程度较⾼(所谓聚居地指西北五省、东北三省、云南省部分地区)。我个⼈出⽣于城市,少年时就远离聚居地。因此,我的回族穆斯林导演⾝份并没有给我的⽣活和创作带来特别的影响。我要是⽣活在聚居地的乡村就可能早早被嫁⼈,接受初级教育都很难,更不要说学艺术了。“回族”是新中国成⽴后对回族穆斯林特有的称谓,回族是中华民族⼤家庭中的⼀员,当代中国穆斯林的⽣态是良好的。关于包办婚姻、少数民族等问题不是这部电影的重点,我更想突出的是⼈物和⼈类共同⾯对的问题,有关⾃卑、尊严、担当……

影⽚在您的家乡拍摄,有什么特别的原因吗?

我出⽣在宁夏银川,祖籍是河北沧州,⽗辈由于⼯作原因上世纪五⼗年代末调动到宁夏。我在影⽚拍摄地⽣活过四年(⼗⼆岁到⼗六岁),那⾥通称宁夏西海固地区,是中国典型的回族穆斯林聚居地。这四年对我产⽣了深刻的影响。西海固地区被联合国教科⽂组织列为“不适合⼈类居住的地⽅”,可以说是苦甲天下。西海固让我懂得了坚忍、质朴、深情并因此受⽤终⽣。

拍摄过程中有遇到什么难题嘛?您又是如何解决的呢?

影⽚拍摄成本三百多万⼈民币,这个成本是我主动和投资⽅商定的。艺术电影的市场回报众所周知,我不能让资⽅赔本,还希望尽可能有⼀定的利润,最⼤限度降低成本是唯⼀的办法。低成本和保证影⽚品质的⽭盾在制作中深深困扰着我。外景地⽓候极不稳定,天⽓预报基本不准确,⾮职业演员在拍摄中需要更多时间排练,⽽低成本必须节约周期等等,可以说每天都是举歩维艰。影⽚终于以⼆⼗七天的拍摄时间完成了,但停机后我常常从恶梦中惊醒,都是有关拍摄现场出现种种障碍,拍摄⽆法为继的梦境。

影⽚导演署名除了您⾃⼰,还有本⽚的摄影指导胡维捷,您能介绍⼀下这位特别的⼈物嘛?他在本⽚拍摄过程中扮演了怎样的多重⾓⾊?

联合导演胡维捷是我的师弟,他毕业于北京电影学院摄影系,所以他也担任了影⽚的摄影指导。⼗⼏年前,他正在北京⼀家咖啡馆和朋友谈⼀部他很喜欢的电影,我也出现在咖啡馆,他谈的电影是我导演的《家丑》,我们就这么认识了。那时候,我时尔被疾病困扰,胡维捷多年来⼀直⿎励我坚持创作理想。我发病住院时,⽆论怎么封锁消息,他都能在精神病院找到我,带着⼀脸顽⽪的笑,好像在说:“又闯祸了吧?”他这⼀笑让被关在铁门⾥的我觉得⾃⼰不过是感冒了,没什么⼤不了的。胡维捷很理解我为什么要拍与精神疾患有关的影⽚,他的存在也让我在拍摄时有着难得的安全感。万⼀我⾝体出现异常还有他,设置联合导演也是对投资⽅负责的做法。

本⽚很平实地展现了中国少数族裔的⽇常⽣活,祛魅地展现了真实中国的样貌。您希望海内外观众从这部影⽚中得到什么呢?

中国在发展,苦甲天下的宁夏西海固回族穆斯林聚居地也在发展变化中。相⽐上世纪⼋⼗年代联合国教科⽂组织的调查报告,今天西海固⼈的⽣活已经有了很⼤改善。影⽚尊重这种发展和变化,也为西海固的回族同胞正在摆脱贫困深感欣慰,我们尽可能真实地将这⼀切呈现给海内外观众。我想通过这部影⽚让观众深信:什么都可以变,唯有真诚、质朴、深情是不可以变的,也不会变。

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