Bipolar – IFFR 2021 Review

Our coverage of the International Film Festival Rotterdam was made possible by the Bird’s Eye View Community Fund.

In Greek myth Orpheus, the titular character – a celebrated poet and musician – travels through the gates of Hell to retrieve his wife Eurydice, stolen in death and kept captive by Hades. Pleading with the God of the Underworld, and Queen of the Underground Persephone, Orpheus is allowed to retrieve Eurydice on the condition that he doesn’t look back until they both resurface. Sadly, as the legend goes, consumed with doubt, Orpheus glances back and loses Eurydice forever.

This tale has been adapted many times for screen and stage such as L’Orphee by Jean Cocteau and the Tony Award-winning musical Hadestown.

Now newcomer Queena Li tackles the story in her debut feature Bipolar. The film revolves around a young woman who arrives in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. It seems there is no reason for her stay there and she feels just as lost as ever. Eating dinner in the hotel, a waiter introduces the woman to a strange, multi-coloured lobster sitting in a tank. Suddenly, the woman finds herself taking the lobster on a road trip – traipsing to find a long lost lighthouse far out in the sea…

Bipolar | IFFR

Bipolar is an impressive black and white feature; with splashes of colour to add to the dreamlike haze. This feverish road trip, as many great experimental films do, is really an exploration of grief and self-discovery. Our unnamed woman faces a whole host of unusual characters and strange places that offer a part of her soul back. As flashbacks begin to surface throughout her journey, it becomes all too clear that this pilgrimage with the lobster does have deeper sentiments and only through transporting herself through the desert can she find herself whole again.

Leading the film is Leah Do who is impressive in her role. The story at times can feel disjointed, like wandering the Tibetan deserts in a somewhat El Topo fashion yet Do grounds the film and therefore anchors the audience into the wild ride. Do flashes through these different moments and iterations of our lead character; confused then determined then melting into the surreal landscape that she is travelling down. Without Do’s masterful way of confronting the pit stops on the road to the sea, the film could find itself lost and washed away with the tide.

As though Maya Derren had done her own kaleidoscopic version of the aforementioned Cocteau’s L’Orphee, Bipolar is a blend of Greek mythology and modern cinema. In her strong debut, Li has established herself as a visionary with a unique pulsating beat that comes alive within this film. A modern Western, a mad road-trip, and a myth filled with mourning, Bipolar is brilliant watch.

May Li’s work continue swimming in these big oceans.

Bipolar plays as part of International Film Festival Rotterdam 2021 in the Tiger Competition

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