Zhai Yixiang made his second feature film with “Mosaic Portrait”, a peculiar drama in a Chinese village where a pregnant underage girl claims to have been raped by her teacher.
How was “Mosaic Portrait” born and what did inspire you to make the film?
I always find all kinds of dramatic twists in the social events showing up on my newsfeed. What I hear and read are often steered by their reporters in ways that totally subvert my expectations, and among which is a teenage pregnancy story. The suspect convicted in the case had changed time after time, that in the end the girl had to give birth to the child to find out who the real father was. That’s when I had a desire to know what it is like to be in the center of it all.
What is behind the title “Mosaic Portrait”? Which reality are you trying to communicate with your film?
No matter of political issues or social issues, the majority only choose to believe what they want to believe and ignore other information that are opposed to their judgment. This is still happening in China.
Actually, the increase of information available doesn’t really help people to seek the truth. The mosaic on different individuals’ minds while they look at the truth is what this film tries to communicate.
“No matter of political issues or social issues, the majority only choose to believe what they want to believe and ignore other information that are opposed to their judgment.”
Xu Ying, the main character, apart from her inner turmoil, also suffers from physical eyesight problems. What are your thoughts behind creating the character this way and how did you manage to portray her inner problems?
Xu Ying is an intangible and unclear character, we thought it would be interesting to combine it with eyesight problems to emphasise the concept of vagueness. She gains a vague perception of the surrounding world gradually through her experience. Growing up is a process towards clarity, no matter which direction it leads.
The spaces in the film contribute to the mysterious theme. How was the process of scouting these open natural spaces?
We travelled along the eastern coastal region from Sichuan to Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi, and finally arrived in Shenzhen. After exploring across thousands of kilometers, I eventually picked the peripheral areas of Guiyang for the village scenes of the film because of its unique terrain. Wet and misty, it has both open plains and rolling mountains on the plateau, which is very close to what I had in mind for the characters’ living environment.
Could you speak about your visual approach? Which techniques did you use to paint this enigmatic story?
We wanted to create a contemporary village scenery that rarely appeared before. We focused on highlighting the atmosphere which in turn sculpted the characters. Based on the landscape of the village, we customized our own handheld shooting methods to deliver a natural and flowing vibe, whereas for the city scenes, we chose a more stable and objective take. Our cinematographer Weihua has a gift for creating atmospheres. His methods included handheld, shoulder-mounted and using stabilizers, and sometimes even handcrafted suspension bars for his camera to adopt a sense of life while on the track.
“We wanted to create a contemporary village scenery that rarely appeared before. We focused on highlighting the atmosphere which in turn sculpted the characters.”
Which image of China you would like to present to your public, especially in relation to the Chinese one-child-policy?
First of all, there’s no intention to discuss the one-child policy in this film. It’s more about the sense of loneliness. I feel that many children grow up in a spiritually isolated environment. They can only save themselves on their own, perhaps it can be interpreted as “self-healing”.
What do you hope the Danish audience to take away from your film?
Considering the difference in upbringing, I hope that Danish audiences would understand why does such silence exists. There are so many cases that cannot be solved simply by speaking them out. What we can do is to quietly watch and feel what Xu Ying has gone through.
What comes next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?
I’m now preparing a family-themed film which is about the conflicts between family members raised by sending the kid aboard for better education.