Madame 姑奶奶, Documentary, Black and White HDV, 120 minutes, 2009, Chinese and English subtitles
In the daytime, Fan Qihui worked as a fashion designer and tailor; in the evening, he changed clothes, put on make-up and became madame Bilan de Linphel, singing melancholy songs in a bar. On October 12, 2010, Fan committed suicide in his flat. His good friend, the artist Qiu Jiongjiong had just finished a two-year project on a documentary about Fan. The film is shot in black and white, and openly, unflinchingly, depicts Madame's appearances as a singer in a bar, and the talented fashion designer and tailor.
"What beautiful make-up! Time to wipe it off." – Madame Bilan de Linphel
Qiu Jiongjiiong comes from Sichuan province. He left school at 18 and decided to become an artist. Like many other contemporary Chinese artists, he felt no limitations when it came to his choice of medium: he painted and shot film. He has now been living and working in Beijing for ten years and participated in several exhibitions with painting and film, both in China and abroad.
Si Han, Curator
Wearing a long dress, as multi-coloured as a painting, eight-inch heels and a wig shaped like a white rose, Madame Bilan sings in a dim bar, in a voice sometimes muffled and deep, sometimes high and shrill. The tears from the corners of her eyes mix with the black mascara of her eyelashes. Songs by the famous 1940s singer Bai Guang alternate with story-telling in the Beijing dialect, accompanied by drums, in the classic tradition of Yan Qiuxia. The audience reaction is mixed: tips are given by hecklers and admirers alike. Some women below the stage make bitter, disdainful comments. Warm songs filled with longing and memories, desperate laughs and curses in a sense of hopelessness. In this noisy environment, the stage is all hers – the small stage belongs to the magnificent, sarcastic, shy, poisonous, snobbish, skittish, unfortunate, charming, aggressive and stubborn Madame Bilan.
The tailor is well-spoken. He often visits gay meeting-points – parks, bath houses – to create stories – occasional meetings, flirting, sex, food… The tailor says that he was born to love men. In his view, his parents were unhappy. His childhood was boring, insecure. He could make a living as a tailor and made enough money to travel to Canton. There, he would realise his dream: to become a popular prostitute. Indeed, he met some men in Beijing and Canton that he remembers with gratitude and warmth. He was still young then. Once, out of carelessness, he contracted syphilis. He then read the Buddhist Heart Sutra, which he recited day after day until he had almost forgotten what he was reading and he realised that the text is not trustworthy – then he found a sense of security.
The well-spoken tailor says with vivid emphasis: money and sex. That is how he lives, in longing and hopelessness. Onstage, the well-spoken tailor is Madame Bilan.
Qiu Jiongjiong 邱炯炯
1977: born in Sichuan, China
Lives and works in Beijing