The Silk and the Flame chronicles Yao's return from Beijing to his familial home in the provinces for the Chinese New Year. Nearing forty and still single, he returns to visit his deaf-mute mother and invalid father, whose dying wish is to see his son wedded to the right woman and starting a family of his own. Yao would prefer to find the right man. He has done well in the capital and supports his parents, his elder brother and his brother's children. His professional achievements have earned his father's respect and fueled the family's growing dismay that he is still a bachelor. Ever the dutiful son, he finds himself suppressing his own needs in order to meet their expectations.
The film is an intimate look into everyday life in China, where the economic boom of the cities stands in stark contrast to the poverty experienced by those living in the countryside. Schiele uses stark black-and-white photography to provide a fascinating and subtle narrative that reveals how deeply entrenched the Confucian values that shape Chinese society are, the legacy of the social tumult of the twentieth century, and the family’s own battle with the simple means of communication that most of us take for granted. The film offers an intimate portrait of familial bonds, of traditional values and the pressure to conform.
Among the precious few highlights screened in the Panorama section, Jordan Schiele’s The Silk and the Flame (2018) reminded us that documentary can be a vehicle for great storytelling. Yao, a Beijing resident nearing forty, returns to his home village for Chinese New Year to visit his deaf-mute mother and invalid father, whose dying wish is to see his son wed. Yao, however, is gay and has no plans on getting married. Rather than hammering out an ethical argument, Schiele uses stark black-and-white photography to evince a fascinating and subtle narrative that reveals how deeply entrenched all his subjects are in China’s tumultuous history of the past century, the Confucian values that shape that society, and their own battles with the simple means of communication that most of us take for granted.
Like “Dressed for Pleasure”, “The Silk And The Flame” also explores the weight of parental pressure on younger generations who desire nothing more than to explore their own sexuality without fear of judgement. In this documentary, audiences meet a man called Yao who travels back from Beijing to his family’s village so that they can celebrate Chinese New Year together. While Jordan Schiele’s camera captures everyday life in rural China with fascinating insight, what stays with audiences long after the credits roll is how Yao selflessly puts aside his own needs to support his family, all while fending off their relentless need to see him settle down with a nice woman.
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Language: Mandarin, English
Duration: 87 min
Written and directed by Jordan Schiele
Director of Photography: Jordan Schiele
Editing: Jordan Schiele
Music: Wei-San Hsu
Sound Design: Chris Stanghroom
Sound: Li Feng
Production Manager: Zhao Xi
Producer: Jordan Schiele
Associate Producers: Liu Hui, He Tai