Review: Stonewalling

Written and directed by Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka, when Lynn (Yao Honggui) discovers that she is pregnant, finishing her studies as a flight attendant are in doubt, not wanting to have an abortion and hide her pregnancy from her absent boyfriend, Lynn hopes to give the child away at birth.

Within China there is a long, complicated history of women giving up their children, whether that be by choice or by mandate. Stonewalling encapsulates the modern perspective of accidental pregnancy, women’s freedoms and looking towards the future. At its core this is not a story about giving away a child but about women taking control of their life and their choices. Following Lynn as she figures out what she wants to do and how to take the path that will get her there, especially with the meddling influence from the others in her life. In doing so Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka aren’t interested in handing you their story, it’s about the experience and discovery, not a simple path from A to B.

A lot of that choice can be seen through their direction because when the dialogue is silent, the visual says plenty. With the help of the cinematography, it’s impressively rich and moves in such a thoughtful manner. It holds a growing suspicion in the background, leaning into the intrusive and often uncomfortable questions which arise with Lynn’s decision to give away her baby. It highlights her naivety which in turn helps to show her growth as the film progresses. It’s an unusual tone which creates a mixture of being peaceful but complex, it’s a compelling combination which moves slowly with a pensive air.

Yao Honggui leads the story with a touch of mystery, starting out with Lynn being introverted, with the reasons for her decisions not entirely clear. Allowing her to open up the character as she moves through the film, giving her space to learn and grow. Although there are qualities which she has from the start, her kindness and independence, as well as her resourcefulness in constantly moving from one job to the next. At the same time, there’s always a big recognition of her youth and how that influences her choices. It’s an emotional but intensely understated performance, cleverly recognising that it doesn’t need to be hugely physical or overt, she can get across Lynn’s struggles with a graceful simplicity.

Stonewallingis a compelling drama, led by a strong and reserved performance from Yao Honggui. Exploring the need for women to take charge and find the power in their own decisions, to let them then discover what they really want. It’s wonderfully layered and shot in a way which perfectly reflects that but it is perhaps a touch long and does end on a note which won’t be greatly satisfying for all viewers. It has a lot to offer but there are a few avenues it opened up which could have been followed further to deepen its layers.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2022

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