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A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
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An elderly Chinese man comes to the United States to visit his daughter; they don't kiss at the airport - it wouldn't be Chinese if they did - and go to her nondescript condo where he makes himself useful by cooking dinner for them. There are unseen tensions between them that slowly come out. She is divorced - something he cannot understand - "Why would he leave you? For another woman?" - she does not reply.
He barely speaks English, but in the park one day he meets another woman his age; she's an immigrant from Iran, and they talk about the ways in which the United States is terra incognita to each of them. He carries a little notebook in which he writes down interesting things. As his visit seems to drag on, his daughter leaves him in the evening, even not coming home for a day.
Little by little they reveal their secrets, I was going to say to each other, but that's not quite true. She tells him it was not her husband but she who left the marriage, for another married man - a Russian. She accuses him of lying about his work as a rocket scientist, when he was only a clerk. It is not until a final scene, one in which she is not listening, that he tells her the truth. And then he goes off on a train to see the rest of the United States.
The film was made by Wayne Wang, the Chinese-American filmmaker best known for "The Joy Luck Club," and written by Yiyun Li, from her short story. One problem for me, and it's surely understandable, with a translation from a short story, is that the two characters - the father and daughter - have no life outside of the screen, and so the film becomes hermetic. Nevertheless, "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" is a lovely film that will stay with you for a long time; and what could be better than that?
11/18/08 <! new pasted review ends on line above>