German born director Nele Wohlatz first met Xiaobin after moving to Buenos Aires, when Wohlatz herself was experiencing the challenges of adapting to a new language and society. She explains, "It takes weeks or month until an actor assumes ownership of a new text and a new role, and even longer for an immigrant to be able to assume ownership of the role given by his new language. This is what also happened to me right after I moved from Germany to Argentina in 2009. I began to think I would never become part of this society, just like Xiaobin, who once said to me: “When I’m waiting at the bus-stop, I want to look like everybody else. When I have money, I’m going to have my eyes and cheeks operated.” When I first had the idea for the film, I was living in Argentina for 3 or 4 years and I was still confused about myself being part of that society. Living far away from my mother tongue and not being able to catch the finer parts of my everyday language made me feel inept as a film director. So I thought, if I don’t feel part of the inner society, I should make something out of my foreign perspective. I happened to teach German to make a living, so I asked the language school if I could interview the students from the Spanish classes."
There she met Xiaobin, who was performing in a play staged by Chinese students at the language school. "She had just begun to study Spanish and it was a tremendous effort for her just to say simple phrases. All of her concentration was focused on her speech; her body only expressed a minimum amount of gestures. Her text was fictitious, but her act of speech was real, a testimony of the inner controversy of her new citizenship, her new language and her new space. It was different from the acting of nonprofessional actors I had seen so far."
The film's script was written together with Xiaobin, in a process in which she could continually test and re-invent herself. Consequently, the film also involves her future, constantly introducing variations. "We went through a long process of rehearsals, first with Xiaobin, later on with other Chinese students at the language school, in order to explore this ambiguous speech where you can’t tell if someone is performing a language or a role. Language schools could be understood as rehearsal stages for a new identity after immigration. That’s how I came up with idea of using the scenes in the language school as the structuring elements of the film. You have the scenes of Xiaobin's life since her arrival to Buenos Aires, and you have the scenes in a language school where we see a group of Chinese students rehearsing their new text, which is the Spanish language. What Xiaobin studies in school, she tries out on the street, and the plot moves forward. Every time she learns something new, she can do more things and more things could happen in the film. That was the basic idea for the script." said Wohlatz.
As her grasp of Spanish improves Xiaobin's coming of age sees her form a new hybrid identity in which she can switch more freely between languages and express her authentic self.
"I think that language determines us, that we can only think as far as words allow us to do so." says Wohloatz, "Maybe that’s why it’s so humiliating to start living in new language as an adult. So I thought of Xiaobin’s character as determined by her new language, and as a character evolving throughout the film as she speaks more Spanish. At the beginning, there is hardly any dialogue at all, since she doesn’t speak any Spanish. When Xiaobin starts studying Spanish she receives a new name, Beatriz, like a first hypothetical new identity. When I knew Xiaobin, she presented herself as “Beatriz” to me, but it was already, like, the third name she was trying out. Spanish names seemed like dresses to her which she would try on, looking for the one that suited her new role, her new identity. In that part, she would take the dialogue from the language manual and try it out on the street, because it was the only tool she had. What happens when one can only speak in sentences from the language manual? How far can you get with this? How do you help yourself when the language doesn’t help you at all? In the first part, we thought about these kind of questions. Before Xiaobin renames herself for the second time, before she tries out to be “Sabrina,” there’s an ellipsis. Suddenly, there’s already an intimacy established with Vijay [her fictional boyfriend] and his time in Argentina is over, he’s about to go back to India. In that part, Xiaobin’s speech is more fluent. It’s also in that part that we invented different opportunities for Xiaobin to talk in Chinese. After being humiliated as someone who struggles to express herself, she gains the dignity and calm of someone who can unite identity and language. Of course, she had never lost her ability to talk in her mother language, but it takes her some time until she finds the opportunities to integrate it into her new everyday life and to complete her new identity as someone who is living in two everyday languages."
This joyful, deceptively simple comedy of manners will no doubt have a deep resonance for many viewers in Wales, whatever their mother tongue.
Xiaobin, 17, is unable to speak a word in Spanish when she arrives to Argentina. However, just a few days later, she’s already given a new name, Beatriz, and a job at a Chinese supermarket. Her family lives in the parallel universe of their laundromat, apart from the Argentineans. Hiding from her parents, Xiaobin starts saving money and signs up at a language school. Whatever she learns in Spanish class, she tries it out on the street. After learning the lesson ‘Setting up an appointment’ she sets up a date with Vijay, an Indian customer at the supermarket. Although they can hardly communicate, they start a secret relationship. After practicing the conditional, the tense of the hypothetical future, her imagination springs into life and Xiaobin starts to think about her future. What could happen if her parents find out about her Indian boyfriend? The better her Spanish gets, the more Xiaobin intervenes in the writing of the film. The Perfect Future becomes a rehearsal room for the new life of Xiaobin.