‘Bipolar’ Review: A Whimsical Quirkiness

“Bipolar” is a quirky, whimsical film that has been compared to Wes Anderson’s films. It tells the story of a young woman who finds herself in a mental institution and must figure out what her diagnosis is. The movie stars Nicole Kidman as the main protagonist and includes cameos from Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, and Naomie Harris.

Bipolar is a quirky, whimsical film that will leave you with a smile on your face. The film tells the story of an eccentric woman who has bipolar disorder and her journey to find out what life means to her.

In this strange cross-China adventure, a young woman escaping the pain of her recent past abandons her Tibetan trek in favor of a road drive with a stolen lobster. This enthralling yet at times confusing journey is filled with hints and clues and defies simple analysis. It’s a strange, episodic story that seems to grow in the hinterland between dreams and reality. Audiences wanting to accompany the trip may or may not arrive at the same location; this isn’t the kind of film that comes with a map.

Queena Li’s feature debut has a loopy quirkiness that reminds me of Guy Maddin at his most strange. Similarly, Li’s daring in combining serious emotional issues with fun comedy (a luridly colored lobster’s-eye-view montage of the crustacean’s voyage from the water is a special delight). Li’s odd vision will almost definitely find admirers inside the festival circuit’s boundaries. However, in the wide seas of any other distribution, the film’s unique attraction may be diluted.

The main character is portrayed by Leah Dou, a dynamic androgynous singer-songwriter who also contributes to the film’s music. From fragmentary memories, we pieced together a few facts, such as her being a musician. She spends her birthday at a fancy Lhasa hotel. And there’s a handsome, wounded child (Kailang He) who lingers in her mind, particularly in a moment set in a beautiful swimming pool. Although nothing is said explicitly, we assume he is the reason she has embarked on this journey.

The girl has hidden behind a pair of repurposed swimming goggles from the rest of the world. Her attention is attracted to the plight of a lobster imprisoned in a hotel’s small display tank. A Sacred Rainbow Lobster is the name given to the creature. While fending off a rowdy businessman who wants to devour the lobster, the hostess says, “People who see the lobster will be relieved of their suffering.”

Perhaps it’s the mention of pain – the girl has a lot of it – or a brief moment of connection with the beast, but the next day she’s driving south in a secondhand taxi, the lobster in the front seat. Her plan is to release it in the same seas where it was captured, under the protection of the Ming Island Lighthouse. However, like with many road films, the emphasis is on the journey rather than the destination.

 

The film, filmed in beautiful, high-contrast black-and-white widescreen with occasional bursts of bright psychedelic color, makes excellent use of the huge, befuddling vistas and oppressive sky. It’s a lovely spot to lose yourself in. She encounters a diverse array of characters along the road, including a beautiful wig salesman (a cameo by writer and director Khyentse Norbu) who offers her a new identity. A pregnant girl who cadges a lift, a young monk who quotes poetry, and an American on horseback who invites her to a feast. She manages to liberate a chained elephant at one point.

The flowing, eddying narrative and dreamy overlay images give the sense that the woman’s mind is processing at least part of this. It may, however, go much further. Perhaps she and the suicidal adolescent are the same person; perhaps the razor she puts in a monastery at the start of the movie ended her life; perhaps the journey is to the afterlife rather than the sea. The film, in some odd way, manages to marshal its stray threads into a satisfying ending that gives a sense of closure and comfort.

SCORE: 7 OUT OF 10

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