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VENICE 2017 Competition

Angels Wear White: Female trouble

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- VENICE 2017: Writer-director-producer Vivian Qu comes back to the Venice Film Festival with a brutally honest, if uneven, second feature

Angels Wear White: Female trouble

In a small motel by the sea in Southern China, two little girls are assaulted by a middle-aged man. There is only one witness to the incident: teenager Mia (Wen Qi), stepping in at the last minute for an absent friend. But Mia, all alone and scared of losing her job, prefers to stay silent, and even a friendly lawyer (Peng Jing) desperate to bring justice to the girls can’t convince her to speak up. That is, until she experiences something that changes her mind. 

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Vivian Qu is no stranger to the Venice Film Festival: her feature debut, Trap Street, premiered there a few years back, in 2013. Now she is back, in competition, with a second helping that, apart from inspired imagery here and there, unfortunately repeats many of the same mistakes. While falling into the audience-friendly form of a procedural, Angels Wear White [+see also:
trailer
interview: Vivian Qu
film profile
]
is, first and foremost, a film about women or, rather, about girls forced into womanhood – a peculiar state that seems to bring nothing but pain and an overwhelming sense of shame. Simone de Beauvoir might have claimed that one “becomes a woman”, but Qu takes this concept even further: In Angels Wear White, you are made into one.

And that usually happens when you least expect it, which explains why everything here is so fluid: a witness can turn into a victim, and the truth can become a lie. If it sounds a bit heavy, that’s because it is – Qu might be an interesting filmmaker, but she is not the subtlest. Still, she shows the treatment of sexual-abuse victims for what it really is: a farce. In her film, police officers seem to be more interested in the beers drunk by the underage victims than the attack itself, and even Marilyn Monroe succumbs to the good old “because her skirt was too short” debacle. With her giant statue towering over the boardwalk, her dress provocatively lifted by the wind for all eternity, she seems to be almost triumphant in her liberated pose. Not for long: in Qu’s film, every woman needs to be brought down in order to slowly build herself back up again – even those made of stainless steel.

But they sure keep on trying, zigzagging somewhere between outbursts of shocking violence and romantic ideas of love, as imagined by the numerous couples taking their schmaltzy wedding pictures on a nearby beach. The white of their dresses might not be pristine any more, but who cares? All it takes is one visit to the dry cleaners, and yet another future wife-to-be will be smiling serenely in her borrowed gown, about as authentic as a surgically reconstructed hymen: 30 minutes and no side effects. Their innocence is just another commodity, and if it was taken away for free, no problem – the guilty party can always pay later. And finally cover those sky-high private-school tuition fees.

Angels Wear White was produced by China’s 22 Hours Films and France’s Mandrake Films, and was made with support from the CNC and the Ile-de-France region in France and Visions Sud Est in Switzerland. Its international sales are handled by Wild Bunch.

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