Pawned off to her aunt’s family, 13-year-old Guo is woken one sweltering summer night by a phone call from her mother. The woman has no regard for the fact that it is close to 5am for her daughter; she simply checks in whenever she happens to feel like parenting. When Guo needs her mum, she is not available. Such a moment occurs after a friend of Guo’s drowns and the young girl is overwhelmed with guilt. Unable to voice her distress, she starts bottling it up and spirals into the vicious hands of adulthood.
The teenagers in Summer Blur are wise beyond their years. Already they have a way of knowing when someone is at their most vulnerable and how this can be taken advantage of. As innocent as Guo’s male peers may look, they have long figured out that most things can be bought, and so they shower her with gifts.
It is disturbing to see children talk so naturally of wiring money and offering to “be [a] sugar daddy bank.” There is never an explicit threat of exploitation, yet the way Guo looks at a shopkeeper, who offers her cousin free ice cream if she dances for him, painfully reveals that she is very aware of the existence of predators.
Han Shuai’s feature debut chronicles various forms and cycles of abuse. While Guo’s mother keeps stringing her along with empty promises, her aunt boldly favours her own daughter and dotes upon her. As a result, the child starts to project her rage onto the only person she is physically able take her frustrations out on: her little cousin.
The performances of the young actors are among the strongest of the entire festival. There is an emotional rawness to Huang Tian’s Guo and her permanent frown – it’s the kind of look that should not be etched into the face of a person whose entire life is still in front of her.
Summer Blur is a grave coming-of-age drama; it’s powerful implications, however, will be lost on a younger audience.
Summer Blur (Han Nan Xia Ri) does not have a UK release date set.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.