The Spectrum of Womanhood in Everything Else and Future Perfect

Xiaobin Zhang stars in The Future Perfect, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – 19, 2017.

In The Future Perfect, eighteen-year old  Xiaobin, recently immigrated to Buenos Aires, has her whole life ahead of her. Though she is in a foreign country and under financial and cultural obligation to her parents, who have paid for her to move here, she has a lot to look forward to. She is learning Spanish, and in so doing, makes new friends. Her Spanish having improved, she starts working in a store to slowly buy her independence from her parents. This slow road to independence also leads her down another road to love, with a man whom her parents would definitely disapprove of as a matter of principle. In a fantastically-written sequence of scenes, which take place during her Spanish lessons, she is encouraged to learn the future perfect tense, as well as to contemplate her future, perfect or otherwise. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Doña Flor, the implacable central presence in Everything Else, who is at the end of her journey. She is not an immigrant but rather a longtime citizen of Mexico City. Unlike the newly-arrived Xiaobin, who tentatively takes the metro all over Buenos Aires with fresh and curious eyes, Doña Flor has a routine commute, friendly with metro employees and knowing which train door will give her the optimal exit to work. She has held down the same bureaucratic job at the elections office for many years, and is likely on the verge of retirement. She is trying to learn (or re-learn) how to swim, but her past fears and her fearful age prevent her from literally diving in. While her swimming group includes many women of about her age, she does not make friends with them. She has known love and lost love, and she likely has no more family to speak of – unlike Xiaobin she has long earned her independence. In the witty and touching ending of The Future Perfect, Xiaobin connects with a lost soul; in the touching and devastating ending of Everything Else, a kind soul reaches out to the lost Doña Flor.

A scene from Natalia Almada’s Everything Else, playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – April 19, 2017.

While these two excellent, thoughtful films are quite different in form, tone, and feeling, they are wonderful to watch together as a group portrait of two compelling women at interesting points in their lives. Both films tackle the subject of womanhood in a respectful but very honest way, capturing the ways in which these women assert their individuality and the ways in which they are defined by roles as mother and as dutiful daughter. I don’t sense that either of the filmmakers, Natalia Almada and Nele Wohlatz, intended to make an explicitly feminist film; nonetheless they  contributed to the canon well-made, intelligent, and absorbing stories which do not reduce Xiaobin to a weepy, pixie ingenue or Doña Flor into a bitter old lady living with her cat. The films’ settings, further, provide a rich context in which to nicely map out their journey. For Xiaobin, the rapidly shifting immigrant demographic of Buenos Aires enables and encourages her to break rules and expectations for a young Chinese woman – in the big city, everyone has the chance to create a perfect future for herself. For Doña Flor, the background of violence against women in her equally bustling metropolis of Mexico City makes her place her feet more firmly on the ground , asserting her position even in the face of hostility, finding some solace in the company of other women and reflecting at the end of each day on the people she has helped. Wherever they are and whenever they are in their own lives, these women forge their own paths, language mistakes, regrets and all.

Everything Else (Todo lo Demas), dir. Natalia Almada, 98 minutes. 2016. In Spanish.
The Future Perfect (El Futuro Perfecto), dir. Nele Wohlatz, 65 minutes. 2016. In Mandarin and Spanish.
Now playing at the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 5 – April 19, 2017.