Wood and Water

A peaceful retirement film that’s more relaxing than structured.

This is a short review, because “Wood and Water” is a short movie, running for nearly 80 minutes. It’s a German import written and directed by Jonas Bak, in which he guides his mother Anke Bak as a woman entering retirement and reflecting on her life and motherhood.

This is a quieter film than Maggie Gyllenhaal’s otherwise pulsating “The Lost Daughter,” because it doesn’t contain screaming kids or a mother abandoning her kids for her own benefits. In fact, Anke wishes to spend more time with her grown up children, including her elusive son Max, who has been spending years Hong Kong and can’t come back home, because he’s dealing with their recent political protests.

Breaking out of her comfort zone, she decides to travel to Hong Kong to visit him. During her visit, she meets a few characters, including an American traveler (Alexandra Batten) and Max’s doorman and good friend (Patrick Lo). And she also worries if she has anxiety depression, which is why she visits a psychiatrist (Patrick Shum) down there.

A reason for the movie’s title is because she visits a fortune teller (Edward Chan), who tells her that she belongs in to the fate of water, means she’s a noble person respected by others. And she lacks wood, which means that her children will follow their own futures and leave her, unless she moves near where they live. And plus drinking water is good for her health, but we already knew that.

“Wood and Water” is slow at times, but it’s also relaxing and peaceful in the ways we see Anka adapt to her own surroundings and some new ones. It starts off in German, but even when she hits Hong Kong, she and the new people she meets speak English. I don’t understand why it has to be this way, but they still have their moments of sentimentality.

Nobody resorts to any of the traveling cliches, regarding thieves or shabby hotels and so forth. In fact, the movie is fascinated by its long shots of Hong Kong’s monuments and buildings, all of which are beautifully photographed by Alex Grigoras, and all of which are reasons why it made at 80 minutes, instead of making it shorter. In retrospect, the film could have been longer with a more vivid character study, but at least,we get to take a break from all the noisy behaviors and cliches, which threaten our movie-going experiences and our own daily lives. It all depends on how we live them.

It’s really Anke Bak who carries the movie with her reserved and naturalism, both of which are directed by her son Jonas. He gives the film a fascinating look and a relaxing state. I know I keep saying “relaxing” and “peaceful” a lot, but that’s what “Wood and Water,” and it’s valid. Sorry if this is a short review, but like I said: it’s a short movie.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Playing at MOMA in NYC and LA This Friday

Categories: Drama, Foreign

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