Wood and Water: Forest for the Trees, by David Bax
Anke (Anke Bak) has chosen to use the occasion of her retirement–for decades, she worked in the office at her local church–to delve back into her past. She looks through old photographs and, along with her two daughters, visits her modest vacation home where she tends to the yard, tilling the soil where her family planted so many memories.
Someone is absent, though. Not Anke’s late husband; she can’t rightly expect him to show. But her only son, Max, has sent last minute word that he won’t be able to make it. Anke’s nostalgic haze gets waved away. She can’t live in the past. The present has imposed itself, as it was always going to. The reason the yard needs seeing to is that it continues to grow. There’s work that has to be done just to get oneself from one day to the next. As long as that holds, it’s not yet time to rest.
This sets the stage for one of this gorgeous, serene, 16mm-shot film’s most beautiful shots, a moving image in more ways than one. From inside a taxi, Anke glides slowly out of a tunnel into a vibrant nighttime cityscape, the camera looking up in awe the same way she must be doing through the car window. This heretofore pastoral film has breached the urban boundary. Anke has flown, unannounced, to Hong Kong to try to see Max.
She has landed in a place in the violent throes of change and resistance, the 2019 protests opposing the mainland Chinese government’s increased and undemocratic role in Hong Kong life and affairs. This employment of actual events that are a matter of life and death to the participants as the backdrop for an outsider’s existential journey would risk accusations of disrespect and trivialization were Wood and Water not in such capable, caring and undeniably curious hands as Bak’s. Anke is aware of her own distance from the protests and the issues which inspired them. Her interest in the demonstrations is not patronizing or gawking but, still, she prioritizes locating her son, who apparently hasn’t been home in days.
From Max’s unoccupied high rise apartment, Anke looks down on the protestors. What was sound, fury and force from the ground looks like so much detritus being blown about by the wind from up here. Wood and Water ponders the subject of perspective. Anke has been searching but has she been seeing? You can’t look backward and forward at the same time.