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Festivals Film Reviews Mint Chinese Film Festival 2024

Review: Guián. A self-discovery journey through love and family

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Nicole Chi Amén.
  • Producers: Alejandra Vargas Carballo.
  • Screenplay by: Nicole Chi Amén.
  • Cinematographer: Nicole Chi Amén.
  • Music by: Diego Rojas.

Synopsis: Nicole Chi decides to investigate her grandmother’s life and roots after her passing. Her journey leads her to China, where she learns not only about her nana’s past, but about her own identity.

Shotgun Commentary: accurate representation of the third-generation-immigrant experience.

Fig. 1. Little girl that Nicole befriended in China. Source: Guián (Nicole Chi Amén, 2023).

Review

Guián is a great story about what it means to be a third generation immigrant. Themes like racism, estrangement, discovery, history and cultural legacy are prominent in the narrative recited by the Costarrican-Chinese director Nicole Chi. She is the narrator and protagonist of the documentary, a tale that begins right after her grandmother’s passing, when she starts wondering about her roots.

The account is absorbing and very illuminating in terms of her experience as the granddaughter of immigrants and how she experiences the cultures of the country that saw her birth and the one that shapes her heritage.

A journey of belonging

The exploration of the hardships of not quite belonging anywhere are very cleverly portrayed through the use of kids and strangers, in this case, taxi drivers. Both groups talk completely unaware of their own racism and prejudices, as well as how their comments or questions might make their interlocutor feel.

While it is not explicitly shared in the piece, the audience can see how the sense of being an outsider in her own country extends to her relatives as well, with something so simple as not knowing that Guián is not the right word to call her mother’s mother. Chi begins to build bridges of knowledge and understanding with the elder members of her family through questions about their past, heritage and language.

Family connections

It is a universal feeling when one loses their grandparents to think of all the things one would’ve liked to ask them about their lives. About their childhoods, if they liked their home growing up, why did they move, etc. So the documentary acts as a reminder of the futility of life and the importance of one’s time with their grandparents. They carry the knowledge of where we come from and all that preceded our existence, so talking to them is one of the best ways to get to know oneself.

Fig. 2. Kids lighting up fireworks for Chinese New Years.
Source: Guián (Nicole Chi Amén, 2023).

All the sections of the film are related to the grandmother and feature interesting facts, stories or general information about the past. However, some of them give the impression of being irrelevant to the chronicle, more so because of the pace of the movie than because of their content.

Slow wins the race?

Some bits of the account had a lot of data packed in a very short amount of time. This results in the inevitable omission of certain parts of the story that is being narrated. In contrast, other parts repeated the same details over and over during a very long period of time, or very simple ideas very slowly. This contradiction in pace and content ultimately feels like driving with the handbrake on, you are advancing, but at a very uncomfortable pace.

ASMR

Another controversial element of the documentary is the narrator. The use of a voice-over is very handy for people who are yet to feel comfortable talking about their intimate thoughts and feelings on camera, as well as to avoid having too much protagonism in a tale. Having a voice to explain what is going on and why, especially when it comes to Chi’s thoughts during an activity or an interview, is a practical and effective way to not lose the audience mid-story.

Nevertheless, Chi’s intonation as a chronicler is very soothing and whisper-like. The speech is calming, but sometimes it works against the narrative itself, since it is very easy as a spectator to lose track and feel sleepy regardless of how interesting what is being transmitted is.

Fig. 3. Nicole in a bus in China. Source: Guián (Nicole Chi Amén, 2023).

All in all, it is a compelling story slightly sabotaged by certain technical aspects that luckily don’t hold the main attention of the viewer. The amount of information given is very reasonable and relevant, and the images used to show the experience are beautifully presented. Guián constitutes a great example of what life looks like to some third-generation immigrants and the importance of getting to know the diversity of your background.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • It is important to be aware of how your words might impact others instead of talking thoughtlessly.
  • Make time for your grandparents, they are invaluable sources of knowledge about who you are.
  • If someone of your family eats with their mouth open, maybe interview them at some other time.
Fig. 4. Kids lighting up fireworks during Chinese New Years.
Source: Guián (Nicole Chi Amén, 2023).

What’s your take? Have you watched Guián? What do you think of her journey? For all of you in the UK, this film will be screened in the 2024 Mint Chinese Film Festival as part of the Feature Competition.

Further info

Guián screening: 3rd February (Saturday), 12:30 at Keswick Alhambra Cinema.

Venue address: 36 St John’s St, Keswick. CA12 5AG, UK.

Festival Pass and tickets: find them right here!

See you there!

As usual, don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts on Guián in the comments section below or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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