Mei (Jiao Xu) is a young girl living in urban Taiwan and brought up in a wealthy family as an only child. She has inherited a love of French culture from her mother and the house is littered with French art amongst other things. Her doting grandfather lives in the mountains and is too far away to visit but nevertheless makes toy animals for her which she cherishes.
When her parents’ relationship becomes strained and her grandfather sick, she struggles to take it all in. As a family they used to put together jigsaw puzzles of famous paintings but now Mei finds herself completing them on her own. When a piece goes missing in a jigsaw of “The Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh.
When Jie (Hui Ming Lin), a shy boy with a knack for drawing, arrives in her class and she becomes intrigued by him. As she discovers he is similarly escaping something, they strike up a friendship. The cautious Jie slowly lets Mei into his life and together they help each other relieve their troubles.
Based on an illustrated novel by Jimmy Liao, the title alludes to Van Gogh’s famous dreamlike landscape “The Starry Night”. As with the painting, the film depicts a perspective where reality is blurred with the imaginary.
The jigsaw puzzle is a recurring theme throughout this movie, not only as a reminder of better times but as a metaphor for how Mei sees the world. So, when a piece in the puzzle goes missing, the consequences for her are devastating.
The kids in this film are remarkable. Xu is sweet without being corny while Lin manages to capture that awkward caution which comes to kids in unfamiliar surroundings. They manage to carry the film adequately between them for the most part with the adult supporting roles also all impressive, understated and genuine.
It is also beautifully filmed. The blending of real and imaginary landscapes does well to show how the children escape into their own fantasies to compensate for a confusing reality. These spectacular montages, including a fantastic origami animal parade, are never overdone or without purpose, World’s End Girlfriend‘s interesting soundtrack giving good support.
It is such a relief to have a film where actions speak louder than words. The muffled fight Mei witnesses between her parents is one of the best crafted scenes I’ve come across in recent times simply for how much is communicated with so few words.
A visually spectacular film, this is also a sensitively told story which doesn’t waiver and one of the better films I’ve seen this year.
Starry Starry Night will be theatrically released in Australia on Thurs 4 October through China Lion Films.