Red Amnesia is a hard film to pin down. Xiaoshuai Wang’s film begins surveying a rundown old house and the brooding young man within, before leaping away to Shanghai to observe Deng (Lü Zhong), a recently widowed woman. She’s being hassled by mysterious phone calls with a sinister undertone, but the police aren’t interested in her complaints, dismissing the calls as dementia-related hallucinations. It seems like Red Amnesia isn’t interested either, observing Deng’s (unwanted) visits to her sons and an aged card facility as the presumed threat of the calls fades into the background.
Mid-film developments take the film into more mysterious territory, as that enigmatic young man re-enters the story. Is this a ghost story? A reflection on aging? A murder mystery? The hypnotic, fractal way time moves in the film – recalling both the peaceful drifting of early Resnais and the jump cuts of early Godard – is exaggerated as the film’s dreamlike atmosphere of unreality blossoms.
In its final moments, Red Amnesias agenda coheres into a political fable and a reflection on long-buried guilt. The elliptical, obfuscatory narrative is a too cute by half (and relies too heavily on late exposition), but the film’s off-kilter atmosphere is entrancing throughout.