The Eye Of Silence

France /China (2016) Dir. Emmanuel Sapolsky

A popular phrase that has arisen over the past decade or see is “can’t unsee”, usually referring to our having espied something we’d rather not, like our parents in flagrante or the latest Transformers film. For the protagonist of this theatrical debut from French TV director Emmanuel Sapolsky unseeing something is not that easy.

Francophile Xiao Mei aka Amelie (Xin Wang) was born with a rare condition that has given her “cat’s eyes” or the ability to see in the dark. Along with her friend Coco (Si Lu Yu) they hit the clubs of Beijing looking for men, with Coco the more gregarious of the two, having snagged a wealthy suitor in Huang Yi Bo (Qing Li).

At a private party hosted by Yi Bo and his friend An Peng (Yu Guang Zheng) Amelie and Coco are the last two girls standing but tragedy ensues during a sex game involving Coco and the two men, which Amelie was able to see with the lights off. Confused and hurt, Amelie is left with two choices – tell the police or take revenge herself.

Not a superhero flick or a thrilling whodunit, The Eye Of Silence is more of a meditation on the rise of materialism and wealth in Beijing with the commensurate abandoning of morals and basic human decency that affluence engenders. With Sapolsky being French we can assume that co-writer and star Xin Wang was largely responsible for the social commentary in the script.

Amelie is presented as a totemic bridge between the two worlds of glamorous excesses Beijing has to offer and the simple folk usually at the bottom of the social ladder. She lives in a bijou, unfussy apartment and doesn’t appear to have much to her name except for a sexy wardrobe for those nights out, looking every inch the classy socialite.

Yet none of this truly seems to bother Amelie unlike Coco who brags about the expensive handbag Yi Bo bought her and endorses sleeping with “Rassholes” (rich assholes) for similar results. We get the impression Amelie is more interested in keeping Coco on a leash than playing the scene but their bond is tight. Coco is also diabetic, which we learn when she is kicked out of a club for supposedly taking drugs – i.e.: her insulin injections.

It is worth remembering this little detail as it has a larger significance that is easy to overlook, as its importance is downplayed but still vital in the moral message being imparted here. The tragic outcome of the party puts the pressure on Amelie and the two men in different ways – Amelie has to pretend she doesn’t know while Yi Bo and An Peng are more concerned with trying to cover up their misdeed.

Through flashbacks it is revealed that Amelie is in fact a country girl using her ability to catch crickets in the dark for her father. That such a girl would end up in the big city occasionally posing as a foreigner to help a friend land some dodgy deals (Amelie learned French through Google) is a plot point not fully explored, only pondered towards the end.

Elsewhere the film is littered with prominent reminders of Beijing’s duality of operating under communist doctrine in spite of being a glittering metropolis where the rich play to their shallow hearts’ content. One pivotal scene takes place in front of a propaganda billboard bearing a message of the importance of patriotism in creating harmony and prosperity, directly after An Peng instigates a criminal act to keep his name free from suspicion.

If this sounds off putting, don’t worry – the critical metaphors and allusions are not so overbearing that they detract from the plot and you can watch this for the story alone. Sapolsky and Wang have come up with some interesting ideas but the arty side tends to get in the way in letting them bear fruit.

The pace hits a bit of a confused lull after Coco’s death with Amelie’s struggle to stay sane veering into some rather incongruous directions, the its full steam ahead with the drama for the final act, bringing us to the expected shocking conclusion with little room for dramatic tension and a distinct lack of rhyme or reason. A shame as this building into a quietly compelling little tale.

Most interestingly is how Amelie’s cat’s eyes aren’t used as superpower which must have been a huge temptation for the writers to have it become her version of her Spidey-sense or X-ray vision. As intrinsic as it is to the plot, we do often forget it is there and on reflection had it been overused as a gimmick it would have lessened its impact as cure for Amelie, especially in the finale.

Sapolsky clearly wanted this to be a visual treat as well as a social critique and on that front he doesn’t disappoint. Via the lens of Joel Alis awe are afforded us 92 minutes of gorgeous photography that brings out the best of Beijing’s nightlife and the bucolic wonder of the countryside, betwixt the mood pieces of Amelie’s melancholic isolation following the tragedy, complete with the seemingly obligatory Ghost In The Shell window shot.

Xin Wang gives a strong performance as Amelie, dominating the film (well, she did write it) with her curious and enigmatic portrayal, in the sense that her changing physical appearance brings about an accompanying attitude changes. The males are largely one-dimensional jerks as is Coco with her wanton superficiality, leaving Wang to prove the sole expressions of complexity and character development.

There is an ambitious script driving The Eye Of Silence the potential of which might have been successfully realised with less indulgence in more experienced hands, yet it is this indulgence which ironically help this film stand out among the current crop of low budget Chinese dramas.

Worth a look if you are after for something quick and different with a quietly provocative side to it.

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