Wang Bing keeps things short with this affecting, unsettling portrait of a woman in the last stages of Alzheimer’s. Wang records Fang Xiuying’s final days receiving palliative care at home in rural China, after being released from a hospital where treatment eventually proved ineffective. In the cramped downstairs lounge where Fang resides, we observe the family bicker about her condition, second-guess her feelings, question her sentience and mourn her impending loss. This is not a sentimental film, but more a stark, honest and reflective one.
The camera gives us a glimpse of Fang in 2015, a year before her return to home. She’s silent and detached but standing up, ostensibly content and with no clear signs of distress. It’s a painful glimpse. One year on and it’s now June 2016. She lays prostrate, her mouth agape with prominent primate-like teeth on display, barely able to move onto her side. Rashes cover her back due to inactivity. Someone hydrates her with a water-filled pipette. It’s noticeably life, but life of a certain kind. The assorted relations are a slightly curious lot. They have mostly come to terms with Fang’s condition – it’s been almost eight years of suffering – but rawness constantly lingers, ready to break the surface. The son’s apparent practicality about his mother’s illness barely distracts us from his basic compassion. Almost intangibly, love exists between them. The men go out to fish for the family – this a poor, working class area – allowing a welcome break and distraction, while the women generally remain at home, monitoring Fang, anticipating the moment. When the end nears, tempers rise and agitation increases. It seems a universal truth that no matter the circumstances, there’s always someone who says, “I’m telling it how it is”.
The conversation between the relatives is cranked up to cacophonous levels. Hardly a word seems audible as they speak over one another. These are common family squabbles mainly, but when the topic turns to the old woman on the bed, the camera often lingers on her face. How much can she perceive? We strain to observe signs of recognition. In one scene, Fang’s eyes moisten and a tear navigates down her cheek. Wang Bing seems to be indicating a possible conclusion, and as the noise depreciates, Mrs Fang fades away. She was only 68.
Mrs Fang does not have a UK release date yet.