Processing past trauma is not only a delicate personal issue but also a challenge when accurately translating it into cinema. ‘The Drowning Fish‘ is a short film whose strength lies precisely in depicting the ongoing state of alert of a victim who reaches a turning point in confronting her past. Director Jiaxuan Li, however, is concerned not only with the concrete interface of these manifestations but also opts for a plunge into the troubled mind of the main character. Her short film sometimes erases the boundary between the visible external world and the invisible internal world of the protagonist, testing various formulas of expressiveness, all revolving around the central symbol announced in the title.


Thus, the drama of a young woman who, after experiencing sexual abuse as a child, meets her attacker again takes the form of a daytime nightmare in which images and sounds bubble up from her subconscious. In this battle with her own demons, someone must win. But how do you fight your own self, especially when the body organically fights back against such a confrontation?


The synthesis of these penetrating feelings manifests itself in an alert and haunting short film that, on the one hand, is inspired by the split and twilight worlds representative of the Lynchian cinematic tradition and, on the other, gives the impression of a race-against-time thriller. In this regard, Jiaxuan Li appears as a director concerned with experimentation, attempting not only to explore as many different stylistic areas as possible but also to convey the emotional chaos of her character. This attitude may seem risky, given that her short film has a rather heterogeneous structure. However, we cannot ignore the expressive force of the entire construct. ‘The Drowning Fish’, therefore, falls into the category of short films that defy generic cinematic restrictions, all to deliver an impactful experience.


For the expressive strength of the cinematic construction and the director’s courage to explore varied stylistic areas in an attempt to capture the anguish of a tormented soul, ‘The Drowning Fish’ was awarded the 2nd Film of the Month distinction in the September 2023 edition of TMFF.