The Other Half of the Sky: Stories of Chinese Businesswomen, the other side of China
by Muriel Del Don
- Patrik Soergel presents a surprising and poetic documentary at the Solothurn Film Festival that portrays a different China, complex and often contradictory
Ticino-born director Patrik Soergel, gives us a glimpse, through his documentary The Other Half of the Sky [+see also:
film profile] (in the running for the Audience Award at the Solothurn Film Festival), at modern China from a different perspective, objective yet penetrating. What interests Patrik Soergel is transformation, the way a society changes continuously in search of its identity, immersed in the present yet looking towards a future that seems to be slipping away from it. The perspective that guides The Other Half of the Sky is that of female Chinese managers, who observe the changes in their country with clarity of mind and wisdom. Patrik Soergel doesn’t let himself be ensnared by clichés, actually showing a world in which determination, long-sightedness and strength of will is more important than gender.
The characters filmed by our Swiss director are four of the most brilliant Chinese businesswomen in the country: they went through the cultural revolution in the 1970s, benefitted from the economic reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping, and have managed to assert themselves in a strongly patriarchal society. These women are now the owner of an important chain of restaurants, the Chief Marketing Officer at IBM, the CEO of one of the biggest producers of air conditioning units in the world, and the founder of various innovative television channels respectively. How have they managed to hoist themselves to the top? What’s their take on modern-day China? The key chosen by Patrik Soergel to try to understand the economic, political and cultural changes in China is women, contemporary valkyries in a way who have no intention of being steamrolled. The director doesn’t try to be exhaustive (it would be utopic to try and do so), rather he tries to show an aspect of change, a piece in a much bigger and far more complex puzzle. The women interviewed are part of an elite that has witnessed historic change in the space of a few short years; economic, political and social changes with global consequences. Their lives are constantly changing, reflecting the instability of the country, which is both technologically advanced and traditional, rich and poor, utopically consistent yet incredibly contradictory.
In The Other Half of the Sky there’s a lot of talk, but surprisingly never too much. The dreamlike and unsettling images of the city, accompanied by salvific background music, assert themselves like rejuvenating pauses that allow the protagonists to catch their breath. It’s all a bit surreal, as if the present were on stand-by, wavering between uncertainty and tight control. Talking about China from the perspective and through the memories of four women who have decided to take control of their destinies, brushing over the wounds of the past, is what interests our Swiss director. Through their stories we see China in a new light, which is by no means exhaustive, but certainly innovative. Patrick Soergel opens a door, leading the audience to reflect on a society which, on closer inspection, is far more complex that it would have us believe. Observing to then reflect, freely, with our own sense of awareness on a world that resembles ours much more than we would initially have thought, is what The Other Half of the Sky leads us to do. A journey that will surprise us.
(Translated from Italian)
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