Inside the Chinese ClosetBerlin Film Festival 2016
For LGBTQ people worldwide, there is little to match the intense pressure surrounding the act of coming out – pressure obviously compounded in countries where homophobia is culturally or institutionally ingrained. For many children in Chinese families, this pressure could well be matched by that from one’s parents to marry and provide a grandchild. In each case, the ramifications of failing to meet familial and societal standards can be wrenching, even catastrophic.
In Inside the Chinese Closet, director Sophia Luvarà shares the experiences of two young people living in Shanghai who have been caught in the crossfire between these competing dilemmas. Bubbly bear Andy and strong-willed lesbian Cherry have already dedicated years of their lives attempting to palliate their parents’ seemingly single-minded desires to ensure their family lines are carried on. In each case, they either have or are in the process of coming out to their parents, but the shame felt by these parents prevents them from revealing their sexuality to their wider families – hence the continuing necessity to pursue an elusive heteronormative lifestyle.
Andy’s own formerly vibrant and active personal life has grown increasingly restricted as his father goads him on to elaborate schemes. Initially attempting to enter into a sham marriage with a lesbian, this eventually escalates into discussions with an agency for surrogate mothers in Thailand, who charge astronomical sums for a procedure which has recently become illegal. Cherry, meanwhile, is in a happy and fulfilling relationship with her girlfriend, but must simultaneously negotiate the end of her own unsuccessful sham marriage to a gay man. She maintains that her father would probably kill her if she came out to him, even as her mother slowly begins to come to terms with her sexual orientation.
Given the immense scope that would be necessary to provide a fuller view of Chinese queer culture, Luvarà’s decision to restrict her film to this single aspect of it is an astute one. Yet, ultimately, Inside the Chinese Closet seems unable to shake the feeling of being a well-made reality television programme. For all the empathy expressed with her protagonists’ problems, the film never manages to glimpse the genuine personal conflicts that must exist for them – in relation to their families or sexualities – and concludes with a sense that one is none the wiser about the deeper realities of Andy or Cherry’s lives.
Marc David Jacobs
Inside the Chinese Closet does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Inside the Chinese Closet here: