‘A Fish Out of Water’ – Variety

It’s one thing for your Uncle Boonmee to recall his past lives; when your kindergarten-age child starts doing it, however, it’s cause for active concern. Yet a serene, zen-like aversion to explanation is ultimately the making of “A Fish Out of Water,” a beguiling domestic fable in which real-world family strife is further complicated — but potentially healed — by the suggestion of a more tranquil parallel universe, as the young son of a separating couple embarks on a stubbornly enigmatic quest to locate his “past parents.” A loosely woven brain-teaser with a creepingly intense emotional undertow, this marks a confident, collected first foray into features directing for Taiwanese commercials veteran Lai Kuo-An.

Having premiered in Toronto’s Discovery program before landing a slot in San Sebastian’s New Directors competition, Lai’s elegantly teasing debut can expect to place in various other international showcases for fresh talent in the months to come. Modest international distribution could follow, on the strength of its intriguing premise and light-touch execution, but this is likely to remain a bigger “Fish” in the festival pond than in the arthouse ocean.

Opening somewhere towards the end of the narrative’s second act before looping back to the beginning, “A Fish Out of Water” justifies that recently fashionable structural ploy more than most: In a film where one character apparently has a different perception of space and time to the others, that introductory flash-forward gives them a kind of common temporal destination. Lai’s screenplay is in no great hurry to specify the condition that ails pre-schooler Yi-An (Run-yin Bai) and, by extension, his parents Haoteng (Jen Shuo Cheng) and Yaji (Peggy Tseng), though it appears all involved are at the end of their separate tethers. “I don’t want to see him disappointed every day,” Yaji sighs, a conclusion that spurs the family far from their Taiwan home to the prettily…

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