BFI Flare: A Dog Barking at the Moon (2019) A Review

In my first review for the LGBTQIA+ Film Festival from BFI, I could have gone for something lighthearted and jolly in these dark times, but then I thought…nah!

Certificate: TBD

Director: Lisa Zi Xiang

Screenwriter: Lisa Zi Xiang

Starring: Renhua Na, Gaowa Siqin, Zhang Yinyue

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 107 Minutes

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

For a film with such a simple premise, the synopsis tells you nothing about how emotionally charged this film is.  Or how gripped you will be throughout.  It sells itself as a simple family drama, but I think it is selling itself short.  With huge international successes like ‘Parasite’ and ‘A Portrait of a lady on fire’ doing so well with mainstream audiences, I would love to see smaller titles like this one get the same treatment.

A story told throughout different points in time, ‘A Dog Barking at the Moon’ tells the story of a Chinese family, and the struggles that they go through once the Wife discovers that her husband is secretly homosexual.

Unlike what I expected of this film, the heart-breaking thing is that the mother is trying so desperately to keep her family together, even when everyone around her is telling her to move on, let her husband have his own life with his lover and get a divorce.  From what I understand, homosexuality has a hard history in China because of their focus on family and legacy and therefore same sex relationships are/were frowned on for breaking those social expectations.  That is shown very clearly here with her mother convincing herself that her husband is suffering from a mental illness and if she just prays hard enough, (and gives enough money to a slightly shifty cult) that she will be able to ‘fix’ him.  While her daughter is urging her to move on with her life. 

Watching her mother become more and more desperate and lash out over and over again as a way of alleviating her distress is heart breaking.  And the more the family collapses, the more abstract the film making becomes during certain scenes, to reflect the breakdown happening within the film Some scenes are reduced to just an empty stage and chairs, like some kind of avant-garde theatre production, and is so striking to see in the middle of this conventionally filmed production.

One of the first things I did notice while watching this film was it’s lack of background score.  Most of the film takes place with no music in the background at all.  This doesn’t really get notices while there is a lot of dialogue going on.  But during really tough emotional scenes or confrontations, when there is a silence, the lack of music really enhances the emotions, making the silences more weighty and adding to the atmosphere of the scene.

It is a slow burn, with the final ambiguous reveal leaving it mostly up to the audience to read between the lines and figure out what has been the driving force behind the mothers rather harsh attitude this entire time.  The transition between present day and the flashbacks is so seamless that if you aren’t paying attention early on, you may not fully grasp what is going on, so I urge you to focus on the film, so you can weave the entire narrative together, it will be well worth your time.

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