Xiang Zi’s poignant drama A DOG BARKING AT THE MOON digests the dyad of traditionalism and identity. The camera serves as a looking glass to the fallacious indoctrinations of cultural restraints; through the glimpse into the life of a family torn apart by repression and distorted values.
Li Jiumei (Renhua Na) and Huang Tao (Wu Renyuan) have been unhappily married for years, since Li Jiumei’s discovery of her husband Huang Tao’s homosexuality, after catching him engaging in sexual behaviour with another man. We follow most of the story through their daughter’s eyes, Huang Xiaoyu (Gaowa Siqin), from childhood to the present, as she pleads with them to divorce so that they can finally begin to enjoy their lives. As she looks deeper into the layers of her home life, however, other tangled revelations flood through the cracks.
Xiang Zi’s piercing direction forces the audience into the claustrophobic tension of Xiaoyu’s home, with an almost documentary feel as the camera continues to run on dialogue-free scenes, asserting that this family, this home and these conversations have more place in reality than fiction. The realistic essence is disturbed when surrealism cuts through the static, orchestrating a mirror between Xiaoyu’s search for truth, and her younger self’s regression into escapism. During Xiaoyu’s episodic breaks to cope with her dysfunctional upbringing, we see the set stripped back into theatrical set, with the characters driving a car made purely of chairs stacked in lines. Xiaoyu often refers to her life as “not a play”, with the flashback sequences rising in juxtaposition to this inference; it almost seems as if Xiang Zi is establishing the reality that such worlds as these are not plays, yet they exist within what we call culture, society and reality: but if this is the case, why do we often live our lives through a script written by someone else?
There are many existential questions that manifest themselves through Xiang Zi’s agonising call to the world, but there is futility in the promise of the message, with the characters failing to connect in the parallel realm of subconsciousness – it’s unclear if it’s a sense of pessimism or realism, but the underlying disposition does not take anything away from its force; as Xiang Zi leaves no room for the viewer to hide from these realities. Perhaps A DOG BARKING AT THE MOON is best analysed through its connection to Miró’s painting of the same name, in that it can be looked at as a philosophical break between generations, or a disconnection between humanity and tradition.
Xiang Zi’s feature is atmospherically electrifying: with films such as these addressing the sociological divide, something lost in the distance could become closer to our reach.