Film Reviews

Review: ‘Confucian Dream’

Hot Docs 2019


Confucian Dream
(China, USA, 86 minutes)
Dir. Mijie Li
Programme: World Showcase (World Premiere)

After witnessing the cohesion of a family practicing Confucianism, young wife and mother Chaoyan converts to the religion with hopes of bringing order and happiness to her family life. While diving into her studies, Chaoyan becomes obsessive. Chaoyan’s four-year old son seems oblivious to his mother’s fervour, while she clashes with her husband and alienates her in-laws. Consumed with the thought that an ardent practice of Confucianism is necessary to her family’s well-being, Chaoyan’s newfound beliefs end up having the opposite effect.

Mijie Li’s Confucian Dream follows Chaoyan’s narrative, which flows with almost fictional precision. Her beliefs begin earnestly before developing into mania. The philosophy starts with respect and morality, but slowly results into screaming matches with family. The drama reaches fever pitch as Chaoyan’s zealousness increases, but Confucian Dream offers a dénouement: Chaoyan separates from her husband and gains self-awareness of her actions. Without abandoning her beliefs, she acknowledges her desperation and anger and we witness her growth. Chaoyan is never one-dimensional in her strict Confucianism; instead, she shows a great deal of depth and development.

Always depicted with respect, Confucian Dream allows for Chaoyan to exhibit problematic behaviour without condemning her. Though focusing on her study, the film is more about human relationships: how Chaoyan interacts with her son, her husband, her in-laws, and her parents. Confucianism is merely a symptom of greater relationship issues, a means for Chaoyan to come to terms with the anxiety and listlessness that she finds in her family life. With great sensitivity, Confucian Dream presents the viewer with the specific outcome of a woman’s conversion, but at its heart, it explores universal truths about relationships.

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