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Silver Bird and Rainbow Fish – OIAF/IFFR 2022 Film Review

3 min read

Still Courtesy - IFFR

Editor's Note: The following review was originally published in-print form, as part of FilmHounds' February/March 2022 Issue & part our coverage.

For over a decade, Animator has repeatedly broken the boundaries and expectations behind the limitations of -animation. His repertoire, as vibrant as his films are, exhibit a lingering dose of melancholy. Each of his films include an infused piece of personal resistance and commentary, which foreshadows a darker cultural context. Personal favourites from his oeuvre include the hyperactive monument ‘Big Hands Oh Big Hands, Let It Be Bigger and Bigger' — a satirical pop-art fantasy that utilises the traditional mechanics of a propaganda film to a delirious fault. Around the same time, Lei Lei also began to collaborate with French-editor Thomas Sauvin; in an attempt to restore decades worth of photographs and lost families with his documentary ‘Recycled'. In the same two-year span, Lei Lei created two uniquely different short films, both self-aware in their social punches against China's withstanding history against the Western view. 

The majority of Lei Lei's work is subliminally political. His sophomore feature ‘Silver Bird and Rainbow Fish' is no exception. By far his most blunt and personal film produced thus far, the feature is an articulated rumination on the importance of storytelling — advocating for a dialogue within the confines of shared intergenerational trauma. The film is a cinematic excavation, assembled out of two audio interviews from close family members and their recollection of their life in Ningdu county. All engagement is brought to the foreground with Silver Bird and Rainbow Fish's animated excellence; a re-contextualised storytelling device which effectively unfolds centre stage. As the slow-moving pace gently welcomes the viewer into the tactile story and legacy of Lei Lei's family, the animation quickly adapts to the harsh reality of the spoken word. 

Technique is essential to the structural form, as clay figurines & cutout propaganda images provide symbolism and subtext. The weight of the is told through simile; often consumed by tragic images of impoverishment and separation. There's a great amount of focus on nature — both anthropological and zoological. In an attempt at providing rationality and forgiveness, the film confronts the misdeeds of the past with earnest brushstrokes of compassion. The visual metaphors of the great colourful fish and the tainted bird exist in Silver Bird and Rainbow Fish's universe to protect the memories and identities of Lei Lei's remaining close family. So we, the viewer, are forced to naturally sit and observe — absorbing each word, each frame, with great diligence and respect. 

In quieter moments of solitude and contemplation, Silver Bird and Rainbow Fish casually cogitates in timid loops; repeating didactic morals with little effect. Time passes, yet Lei Lei loses sight of the command of his interviews — in favour of additional visual subtext. Far from flawed, there's an occasional loss of a consistent pace due to a shift in focus. But, at least the film never violates its initial promise; always caressing the viewer into a safe and welcoming environment. With injustice comes forgiveness. With the pressures of political power comes love. With cinema comes the preservation of heritage and the importance of meaningful storytelling. 

Still Courtesy –
Silver Bird and Rainbow Fish screened at this year's Ottawa International Animation Festival & Rotterdam Film Festival. The film is currently seeking international distribution.