Funerals like weddings can be caught in between the real and the absurd. Seven days in Heaven, one of the more original offerings from the reemerging Taiwan film industry (and playing in the upcoming Taiwan Film Festival in San Francisco), offers ample slices of dark comedy, mixed with ritualistic religious and social issues to create a film with a sometimes bizarre wit.
The film revolves around a family including Mei, a young urbanite who returns to her rural hometown village to arrange the funeral for her father. Together with her brother Da-zhi, they deal with the arcane, sometimes obtuse and downright strange customs that envelop everyone involved in the funeral process.
Debut co-directors and co-writers Wang Yu-lin and Essay Liu inject the film with creative sight gags, and spunky dialogue. Seven days skewers politics (like a local mayor who needs to have his name prominent displayed on a fancy funeral gift) and religious beliefs (as when the an ambulance driver asks Mei whether she and her father pray to God or Buddha in order to select the proper music to accompany the ride to the hospital). Yu-lin and Liu artfully blend the dark, somber atmosphere with scenes like the local Taoist priest sticking to the traditional seven-day mourning ritual by constantly instructing Mei to cry on cue.
Liu and Wang know not only how to create a visually striking palette, but they know how to smartly use a soundtrack with eclectic sounds that range from the toe-tapping opening "Hava Nagila" sequence to American and Spanish pop tunes.
At times, the film could use a kick in the coffin with a few scenes that plod along and don’t seem to pay off but the film makes up for it with snappy dialogue and free flowing style. Seven Days in Heaven might not rise all the way up to film making heaven but it comes pretty close for 93 minutes.
Screening at Taiwan Film Days - October 22-24, at Viz Cinema (San Francisco)