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“In China, we don’t talk about sex”

Industry Report: Europe and the Rest of the World

Vivian Qu • Director


VENICE 2017: In Angels Wear White, Vivian Qu, the only female director in the main competition at Venice, lifts the lid on society’s dirty secrets

Vivian Qu  • Director
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

After 2013’s Trap Street, director and producer Vivian Qu comes back to the Venice Film Festival, this time in the main competition, with a story about the aftermath of an assault on two girls in a small coastal town. In Angels Wear White [+see also:
film review
interview: Vivian Qu
film profile
, she examines society’s treatment of women and attitudes towards sex, which might have changed a little over the years, but not as much as one would like to think.

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Cineuropa: In Angels Wear White, you concentrate on the victims and never show the assailant. Why? 
Vivian Qu: I didn’t want to see him. It’s not important who he is, because he represents all the powerful people who think they can do whatever they want.For me, the most horrific crime is not necessarily what happened that night – it’s what society does to these girls later. Cases like this are quite common, but we don’t hear about them, because in China, we don’t talk about sex. It has changed a little over the past few years, but not an awful lot. Girls don’t report these crimes, because they are still considered shameful. Very few of them get justice. 

Is it because people still tend to blame the victim for rape?
People think, “Why did they attack you? You must have done something wrong.” We still associate sexual assault with a woman’s shame. The victims need support from their families, but instead, they often hear: “It’s nothing – just forget it.” There are a lot of cases where they completely block it out, but it comes back to haunt them later on, influencing their future relationships and the way they see men. In my film, one girl seems to be less traumatised by these events than the other. But we don’t know if she will stay like this forever.

There is a statue of Marilyn Monroe towering over the boardwalk and the girls. It’s an arresting image, and in a way, its destiny mirrors their own.
When I was writing the script, I found out that in a small town in Southern China, they actually built a giant statue like that. After six months, it was destroyed because her skirt was too high. I saw images of it lying on a truck, being taken to the tip, and I felt it was very much my story. First you have this need to look at a woman in a short skirt, but then you are not happy about it. You blame the statue for having a skirt that’s riding up. It’s very ironic. 

What is the current situation like for women in China? In your film, nobody listens to the victims, and even the lawyer who tries to help them is not respected as much as her male colleague would be.
In past centuries, your best chance in life was to marry into a good family. I wish it were completely different now, but it isn’t. You can achieve so much as a woman, but unless you are married to someone important, people don’t seem to care. Chinese women have taken on important roles in society, but they are still expected to behave in a certain way. One of my friends, who works in advertising, told me that whenever she is discussing important projects with clients, there needs to be a man in the room – even if he is just an assistant. As a female filmmaker, I feel it too, but I have decided to ignore it [laughs]. I recognised the problem early on, and I found ways to handle it. But you still have to prove that you are just as good as a man.

Why did you decide to have such young protagonists? Both the victims and the only witness, Mia, are underage.
Our economy is developing very fast, and in the last 30 years, people have been migrating to cities to work, leaving their children behind. They grew up without any proper care; they can be hurt, assaulted or turn to crime. In China, we are all huge admirers of the Dardenne brothers, and I thought the style of their director of photography, Benoît Dervaux, would fit this story. I needed it to be objective but, at the same time, really intimate, because I wanted to draw attention to these kids. It’s a big problem now, and it could become an even bigger one in the future because we are not trying to resolve it. It’s a bit like that scene on the beach with couples taking their “perfect” wedding pictures and wearing those rented dresses. We are focusing on the surface, not on the core.

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