In Anticipation of a Story to be retold

Waiting for God, a Christmas story in rural China

7 DECEMBER 2016,
Frame of Waiting for God
Frame of Waiting for God

Chinese director Gan Xiao'er (甘小二) tells in Waiting for God (在期待之中, 2012) about the life of Xiaoyang, a pregnant woman, who can not marry her boyfriend –a carpenter from Hunan– due to the religious intolerance of her Christian community.

Gan Xiao'er, who lives in the rural areas of the People’s Republic of China, presents after Raised from Dust (2007) his third independent film Christian communities in rural areas. In contrast to his previous film, in which the protagonist must choose between keeping her husband alive or schooling her daughter, Gan is now focused on the inner conflict of the female character that is led to isolation by her Christian community.

As a church officer, the young Xiaoyang, or Mary, is dedicated with devotion to her duties, but she faces intolerance and contempt towards her by community members because of her relation to a non-Christian boyfriend. Even the dogmatic attitude of the pastor, who loves Arts most in the service of religion, complicates her task. He rejects her proposal to engage her musically talented but not devout former classmate as a volunteer choir director; envy and the competitive spirit of the pastor become evident. Thus the filmmaker exposes vices inside and outside the community. But only Xiaoyang seems to want to do penance.

The story time and the course of her pregnancy focus on a single day. Mary reveals her pregnancy in the early morning in front of a tree and is then despised. By midmorning she entrusts her lonely grief to a tree and gets the compassion of a Buddhist nun. Around noon the pastor proudly shows her the mural of Adoration of the Child he has ordered. In the afternoon she does forge a cross in the village and carries it to the church. On the way she holds a rest at that tree and meets three men who are passing preachers. They heard of her arrival and saw her sparkling steel cross. As Mary is asked about her pregnancy –that has become evident by now– the three men propose her to baptize her son Joseph, she smiles again. The viewer may laugh in the face of this random comic event and so complete the story by making a typological interpretation between the New and Old Testament. The foreshadowing of the Three Kings in the three men in The Lord's visit in Mamre (Gen. 18) and Mary as Sara become evident here.

Aesthetically Gans film reflects proximity to the cinema of Ingmar Bergman, with long shots and black and white. It achieves the unity of space and time of drama and aims the alienation effect as Brecht proposes for his Epic Theater. So the camera dollies back just as the drama reaches its climax and the viewer becomes aware of its outside position and its analytical skills.

Gan is attached to the rural region, draws from the Christian tradition and shoots his films also with amateur actors from Christian communities. Among these his films cause controversy, but beyond they are largely unknown. However, on religious issues they are an interesting alternative to blockbusters and demand a critical look at a common Chinese reality.

Gan Xiao'er, born in 1970 in Xinxiang, Henan, graduated from the Beijing Film School in 1998 and teaches direction at South China Normal University in Guangzhou. In 2000 he founded The Seventh Seal Film Workshop and makes own films since. His earlier middle length films deal among Chinese young adults. In Not too close, not too detached (若即,若离, 2005) Gan puts a couple of young actors into a room full of references to European Fine Arts in relation to values and attitudes among the Chinese youth. In his experimental film Fear and Trembling (恐惧 与 颤栗, 2009) Gan gathers a group of young people, dressed as mythical characters like those of Japanese Manga, around a huge wooden cross, suggesting the Way of the Cross, but with an absent Jesus.

References

Lai, Y. [賴勇衡](2013): The postsocialist cross in rural China : a case study of Gan Xiao'er's religious features, (Thesis). University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR