(Taiwan, 88 min.)
Dir. Hui-Chen Huang
“It’s not good to talk about this,” mutters Anu after her daughter, the film’s director Hui-chen Huang, wonders why her mother has never opened up about her sexuality.
A Taoist priest, divorcee and a daring gambler, Anu identifies as a lesbian, the word which Anu’s family and friends avoid using at all costs, substituting it with such terms as “tom boy.” Although Small Talk audaciously confronts homophobic stigma in Taiwan, the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriages (although several nations have never passed laws making it illegal), it primarily centres on a mother-daughter relationship. As the chronicle calmly unfolds through sequences of silent, obdurate and compassionate Huang’s conversations with Anu, it reveals the actual reason behind the film’s creation. It’s a chance for Huang to reconnect with her estranged mother. Sharing the same roof, Huang and Anu seem worlds apart and it is the documentary that yields partiality and understanding for them.
Although Small Talk tackles numerous social issues such as homophobia and misogyny, it stays true to its title. The documentary doesn’t aim to criticize the country’s current socio-political climate or use Anu’s accounts to generalize its human rights issues. Quite the contrary: the film charms with its ability to stay compelling and critical by merely centering on one family, whose struggles feel more realistic and salient than those of a whole nation. The film strikes with a sense of solitude expressed by Anu, who speaks the most through the ambivalent silence between her short sentences. The silence is the documentary’s most explicit tool in rendering its observational aesthetics and conveying Anu’s complex and painstaking experiences.
Small Talk screens at Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival on Sunday, May 28 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.