Everything close is far away and vice versa in Jonas Bak’s debut feature Wood And Water. Ten minutes into the film, a rural German family has a polite conversation about politics. “People there are fighting for their freedom,” says one of the family’s daughters (Theresa Bak), discussing. ‘There’ is Hong Kong, a battle ground in 2020 and the residence of that family’s well to do prodigal son. Eventually, the family’s matriarch (Anke Bak) goes to Hong Kong to see her son, crashing at his apartment only to not find him there. While waiting for him, she befriends people in hostels (Alexandra Batten) and activists (Ricky Yeung).
This feature’s use of binaries are, for the most part delightful, and one of these complementary opposites is Jonas Bak’s use of 16mm to capture Hong Kong’s hypermodernity. Sure, a lot of the colour schemes feel very 80s. But there’s something pleasant about the dusk and dawn’s neon blue bathing the screen, a neo-noir where a detective doesn’t ‘do anything’. Although what is there to do? There’s the implication here that the government of the People’s Republic arrested him. But his condo’s employees don’t treat her like that’s the case, and they won’t do this to a foreigner, right?
As the mother – the film doesn’t name her – in Wood and Water does ‘nothing’, it competently captures a certain chilliness. And I like its lack of concern towards having underlying tension and that tension not bubbling up. She eats Chinese food as her son’s building’s doorman has to return to work. Within the white noise of a bustling town is a quiet reserve, a subversive view of motherhood where a mother disregards societal pressures and looks out for herself. She is one of many within streets where clutter thrives, an unvarnished view of a woman and her adopted city.
Aside from the dashes of neo-noir, Wood and Water also does a few things that are visually interesting. Jonas Bak interrupts some scenes with a black screen, which get longer close to the end. He also smoothly cuts away to details of whatever room the Mother is in to reinforced the lived in quality of each space. My other big complaint about this is how the son’s doctor gives out his information to the mother, but I’ll let that go. Even if some aspects make me feel ambivalent, Jonas Bak makes sure that his viewers feel certain images’ monumental weight.
Wood and Water comes soon on OVID.