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The Unbearable Heaviness of Loving: Writing on Yulin Yang’s “Like Wave Like Cloud”

Şubat 22, 2024
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We all know Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s famous quote, where he suggests that a great story begins with either the arrival of a stranger to the town or the departure of a protagonist into unknown worlds. But what if these two options are not so distinct after all? What if leaving and staying happen simultaneously?

Premiered at the 2023 Krakow International Film Festivalin Poland; Chinese director Yulin Yang’s short narrative film, “Like Wave Like Cloud”, provides an intimate portrayal of a lesbian couple’s struggling relationship amidst the shimmering heat of summer and the liberating waves of the ocean. At first, the couple appears to be on vacation in a summer escape village. However, it becomes quickly apparent that one of the women wants to stay there as a surfing instructor to escape her worries. The other woman becomes anxious, and a conflict over whether to stay or leave begins.

The anxiety becomes almost like a physical character in the film. The worried woman gazes into her partner’s eyes, waiting for a reaction, while the anxious summer air separates them only further. She looks into the mirror, fixes her newly-cut hair, and reapplies some lipstick – all in the hopes that her partner will notice her once again. Yet, this does nothing but strengthen the unbearably uncomfortable self-doubt. What can you do if you see your loved one slipping away from your fingers after all? “Do you still care about me?”, she asks her partner in a nightclub, who is not even aware of the changes in the tides between them. “What are you afraid of?”, she asks again, determined to get some words from her partner’s tightly shut lips. Nonchalantly, she finally replies with a “This is all I can do for now,” and goes back to sipping her beer. 

The film conveys, almost suffocates at times, the audience with this sense of impending doom. The couple struggles to communicate or care for each other properly. Some words remain unsaid, some actions remain untaken. Something always stays incomplete. One woman wants to stay, the other wants to leave. Eventually, we see them spending time without the company of each other. These me-time sessions only bring the meltdown quicker to the base. These two women need each other even though they will not admit it openly. This compassion is what makes the foundation of queer survival. After the woman who intended to stay in the surf paradise receives a shocking call and has to return home, we see her break apart. Her anxious partner reaches out for her once again, “I’ll go back with you,” she adds through a shaky voice. “You know you can’t come,” adds the other. Their real world is not suitable for their kind of queer compassion and love. She bawls her eyes out and cries out, “You all are going to leave me sooner or later, aren’t you?”

What can you do if your only option is to leave yet keep your feelings intact? In the end, the roles are switched. The woman, who always wanted to stay, leaves. The woman, who always wanted to leave, stays. Before leaving her paradise, she is surrounded by harsh, quickly changing red streetlights on the road. She gazes with painful eyes at her once-partner, who is hugged with warm blue lights reflecting from the ocean. “I didn’t know where she was going but it felt all right,” she thinks to herself as the bright redness shines on her teary eyes. “As if all I needed was to see.” 

Maybe in the end, leaving and staying are the different sides of the same coin called (queer) love. As dramatic as it sounds, we might not be ready for some aspects of it while welcoming for other parts. In the film, the couple was not ready to be together for longer. Will that still nullify the past experiences, though? Being content with the fact that we could experience that compassion and love even for a bit could be more than enough perhaps. At that point, choosing to leave or stay will be the only thing we will be able to do – and that is completely okay. Think of the words and actions so far from winter to summer to every other moment in between and then make your choice. After all, “Seeing is enough.”

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