I had a meeting at relatively short notice in London last week and, knowing it would mean an overnight stay, headed straight to the London Film Festival website to see what options were still available for the evening in question.
Well, The White Girl had me at Christopher Doyle.
The master of cinematography has co-directed this film alongside Jenny Suen, a first-time feature director from Hong Kong.
The eponymous white girl is played by Angela Yuen, and is a lonesome young woman isolated from most of her fishing village due to a sun allergy which means she has to keep away from bright daylight and keep her skin covered. She’s bullied at school, shouted at by her fisherman father (with whom she lives), and misses her mother who she was told died when she was a baby. She’s an outsider in her own village.
Into this world comes a young man, an artist who moves into an old derelict property nearby. He’s alone and mysterious, and (although it took me a while to realise) doesn’t speak the local language. The young man and woman find some kind of bond through their broken English.
Another strand is the appearance in the economically unstable village of wealthy developers from mainland China, who have some nefarious plans to buy what remains of the village to develop a huge tourist spot.
I did enjoy watching The White Girl, but I must admit that had it not been introduced by director Jenny Suen herself, I would not have grasped the significance of most of the references. I’m sure that to people from, or who have a connection with, Hong Kong this would not have been a problem. I hadn’t realised that in 2047, just 30 years from now, Hong Kong is set to lose its own government and laws, and revert to being just another part of China. With this knowledge, then all the visitors to the tiny village take on greater significance, as does the father’s over-protectiveness of his daughter. It also wasn’t obvious to me (as I have little knowledge of Asian languages) that the artist is actually Japanese – I figured it out part way through.
It seems as though, in her enthusiasm and passion for her project, the young director simply tried to put too much onto the screen at once, certainly for someone like me to fully appreciate.
However, unsurprisingly, the cinematography is the star of the show. The framing, the light, the observations – they all have Christopher Doyle’s fingerprints on them and it is beautiful.
If you haven’t heard this BBC World Service interview with Doyle, made while he was shooting The White Girl, then I urge you do so. The section where he talks about potentially losing his sight is quite extraordinary.