Blind Massage (China, 2014) [NYAFF 2014]

Easily the most powerful and innovative Asian film of this year, Blind Massage consolidates the rebirth of Mainland director Lou Ye as a world-class talent. Lou creates a true ensemble movie: the blind and partially sighted masseurs and masseuses of Sha Zonqi Massage Centre, in Nanjing, central China, a distinctly unglamorous, bottom-line undertaking run by the light-hearted Sha Fuming (Eric Qin Hao) and the more serious Zhang Zongqi (Wang Zhihua). It’s a powerful ride through a parallel world of metaphysical cinema that Lou first flirted with in Suzhou River (2000) and the big-budget Purple Butterfly (2003), but this time he also shows us a world of faces without eyes, full fathom five into the fundamentals of cinema and the very fabric of perception, a world where light and darkness lose their usual meaning but basic human emotions (love, jealousy, friendship) remain the same. Alongside its scenes of beauty felt or briefly glimpsed, Blind Massage contains moments of humor, joy, and pure horror, and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s music is always there to add color to Lou’s magnificent poetic canvas. (Synopsis courtesy Subway Cinema and the Film Society of Lincoln Center)

I saw Blind Massage at a press screening at the beginning of June. The film is a very compelling drama. What impressed me was how, for the most part, what the blind and partially sighted are concerned with are the same things that the sighted confront: the search for love and companionship, family pressures, and so forth.

Some of the scenes are depicted in what — for lack of a better term — I’ll call “blind-o-vision.” By this I mean that what’s depicted on the screen turns dark and out of focus, much like what I imagine a partially sighted person sees. For me this served to create empathy with what the lives of the blind and partially sighted are like in that regard.

Blind Massage is a far different film from the vast majority of those shown at NYAFF, this or any other year. It’s to the credit of the Subway Cinema programmers of the festival that they include such a film and it most certainly deserves viewer support.

Blind Massage is showing on June 30 and July 2  at the Walter Reade Theater. The full schedule for NYAFF 2014 can be found here.