Summer Palace Lou Ye

This is sort of a comeback for Lou Ye, whose previous Purple Butterfly was beautiful but impenetrable; it’s too bad the new film’s only half a triumph that goes slack after an historical atrocity. Set in 1987, the film tells the story of a Chinese country girl who goes to university in Beijing; she meets the right/wrong man and has one of those "can’t live with, can’t live without” relationships that aren’t emotionally sustainable. Their patchy romance finds Lou in his element, with gorgeous camera work and clever editing evoking the potent emotions and sensory overload of young adulthood. And when the Tiananmen Square massacre dashes their hopes, it’s a crushing blow to both the audience and characters alike. When youth is in full flower, Summer Palace is as well, sadly, the bloom falls once school ends, then the film’s associative approach is completely unprepared for the complexity of workaday life. Though our heroine has trouble staving off boredom and friends move away or commit suicide, the film continues to lack definite opinions, which is hard to swallow in a life out of school where decisions have to be made. Worse, the film gets hung up on that university affair, suggesting that moving on is impossible and their parting will mark them forever; it’s the sort of thesis a younger person would have imagining the adult world. In the end, I would have preferred that the film ended 80 minutes in, as the final third turns a beautiful evocation of youthful confusion into a confused evocation of post-adolescent ugliness. And yet, I wouldn’t warn you away; instead I suggest you hit the bricks after the film’s obvious turning point. (Laurel Films)