A middle-aged, male psychologist informs a young woman, “You have inner conflict, normal people are attracted to the opposite sex.”
For the cost of US$50 an hour, the psychologist says that he can fix the problem.
The setting is Shanghai and the story follows 31-year-old architect, Andy, and Cherry who has yet to come out to her parents.
From the outset it is clear—being gay in China is problematic, not only for your family, but also for your future.
In the opening scene Andy is engaged in an intimate phone conversation with his father. The state of this father-son relationship is based around the urgency for Andy to enter a fake marriage—preferably with a suitable lesbian.
In part this would function as a means of saving face, but also in a country where there are next to no social welfare benefits available, senior citizens rely heavily on their children to care for them in illness and old-age. On top of which, the Chinese adhere to Confucian beliefs based on cultivating family values and relationships.
This is the very crux of what Inside the Chinese Closet is really about.
The only problem is, finding a fake partner is just as difficult as finding a real one.
Andy meets a potential ‘fake’ marriage partner who presents him with some challenging, but important questions:
a). Who will look after the child when one of us wants to go on a date?
b). Will I have to look after your parents when they get sick?
c). Will I have to spend time with your parents?
d). Which surname will be given to the child?
e). How will we conceive in the first place?
While we watch Andy’s quest to find the ‘perfect’ partner, Cherry is confounded by family pressures of her own. Her mother is desperate for her to adopt or buy a baby on the black market.
Cherry’s parents live in a rural close-knit village where people talk—particularly about the fact that Cherry has married, but has not had a child—a subject of embarrassment and shame for her parents.
In an effort to get things moving, Cherry’s mother is prepared to do whatever it takes and stealing a child isn’t unthinkable.
Director Sophia Luvara does a lovely job of drawing out vulnerability and isolation through moments of stillness, which is particularly powerful when Cherry returns to her family village and reveals her raw first encounter with discrimination.
Luvara’s subjects trust her and allow us in to their lives, which makes for a personal and intimate viewing experience.
While there isn’t a conclusive ending, Inside the Chinese Closet reveals how designated cultural values and norms impact on the lives of individuals who sit outside of a conventional box. It is as much a story about filial duty as it is about the journey to find a suitable marriage partner, regardless of what the context and purpose might be.
To find out more head to the New Zealand International Documentary Edge website.
The festival runs from 4-15 May in Wellington and 18-29 May in Auckland.