Nele Wohlatz’s “The Future Perfect”–winner of the Best First Feature prize at the 2016 Locarno International Film Festival–portrays a fascinating transformation that rests the film’s success squarely on the shoulders of lead actress Xiaobin Zhang.
She plays Xiaobin, an 18 year-old recent Chinese immigrant to Argentina. During her time living with family in Buenos Aires, she will get a job at a deli, navigate a chaste romance with Indian computer programmer Vijay (Saroj Kumar Malik), and learn Spanish in stilted language classes with other Chinese immigrants.
Xiaobin’s first on-camera Mandarin–delayed until the film’s halfway point by obscuring her face or placing her out of the frame whenever she previously spoke the language–comes after an unexpected marriage proposal from Vijay. Xiaobin eloquently employs her native tongue to explain her reasoning for declining the proposal. While the Spanish-speaking Xiaobin is hesitant and awkward, she transforms into an exemplar of composure and self-knowledge in Mandarin, an accomplishment in modulation on Zhang’s part. The “possible futures” that Xiaobin imagines in the film’s final third suggest positive and negative paths for her life, and the actress adroitly swings between the emotional highs and lows the character experiences in these scenarios. Zhang’s significant range helps her deliver one of the most memorable performances at this year’s New Directors/New Films.