TIFF 2022 | Stonewalling (Huang Ji & Ryuji Otsuka, Japan) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Winnie Wang

Lynn (​​Yao Honggui), a young flight attendant in training, shuttles tirelessly between odd jobs modelling at a jewelry store, assisting her boyfriend with a clothing business, and selling medical masks. Her mother runs a fertility clinic, but prefers to climb the ranks of a multi-level marketing scheme for a skincare company that promises its most dedicated peddlers the reward of a motor yacht. The supplemental income from her marketing efforts, though, is directed towards paying the settlement of a lawsuit for a stillbirth accident. When Lynn discovers she’s pregnant after a physical exam to determine her eligibility as an egg donor—another method of extracting income from her body—she sees this as an opportunity to alleviate her mother’s debt and free herself from the burden of raising a child without undergoing an abortion.

Under Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka’s restrained direction, Stonewalling offers a brutal, unsettling depiction of the Chinese gig economy. Characters matter-of-factly outline payment structures, job requirements, and terms of agreement for adoption that are predatory at best, and exploitative and life-altering at worst. Yao’s subtle performance rarely betrays Lynn’s pressing anxieties, skipping stages of panic and frustration to arrive at a sort of passive acceptance of her situation; there’s simply no time for anguish or despair. The film’s swift 148 minutes unfold as a gendered interrogation of part-time and temporary work; here, women are prized for their physical features as promotional models and their reproductive organs as egg donors. This juxtaposition of different kinds of “labour” skirts contrived academicism, but transcends it through a sense of dramatic urgency: we experience Lynn’s story at a distance, but it’s no less affecting as a result.