You know a film is going to be nerdy when it’s named after a grammatical tense. The Future Perfect, a mere hour long, is a coming-of-age tale more concerned with posing philosophical questions than with hitting plot points. How does language shape our experiences in the real world? How is speaking a new tongue like being an actor or storyteller? What’s the difference between crying and making yourself cry? How many types of meat do you need to memorize if you work in a Buenos Aires deli? (Many.)
The film is neatly structured around Spanish language exercises among Chinese students in an Argentinian classroom. We hear their initially stumbling conversations, then see similar scenarios play out in the life of one of the students, 18-year-old Xiaobin, who’s just come from China to join her controlling family. Her first interactions, mirrored by her early attempts with the language, are painful. She gets fired from her deli job for her incomprehension of customers; she wanders into a cafe before sneaking out because she can’t read the menu. But with each new Spanish lesson she masters, her boundaries fall away.
She invents new identities, calling herself Beatriz or Sabrina. She begins a stilted romance with an Indian programmer. She learns how to cry on command from an Argentinian actor. But she doesn’t really blossom until she grasps the conditional. We see hypothetical, wildly dramatic futures enacted as Xiaobin describes them: Or if I stay with my boyfriend, he might turn out to have an angry wife. Or we might have a happy wedding on the beach.
Director Nele Wohlatz lets her story grow from the life of her lead actor, Xiaobin Zhang, and a group of actual students. As in the films of the mid-century French director Robert Bresson, the nonprofessional players’ awkward screen-innocence offers an escape from artifice even as Wohlatz teases us for taking what we see literally. When a cat referenced in the Spanish dialogues (“What a nice day!” “Yes.” “Lovely cats!” “Where?”) shows up, we don’t know whether it does so in “reality” or in Xiaobin’s imagination. Is it a metaphor for the abstraction of language given life? At the end, we don’t know if anything we just watched actually “happened.” The charm of this experimental film lies in its intellectual complexity, its lack of pretension, and the obvious intelligence and strength of Xiaobin—the character and the real woman.
For more information about this intellectually stimulating but short feature film, visit Movie Times.