Where Dreams Rest (Sundance)

By Elaine Wong | Drama
A Chinese woman risks her life to reunite with her husband in the U.S.

Ah Wei is a young woman from rural China who has undertaken a momentous journey: she has decided to cross the U.S.-Mexico border through an underground tunnel to reunite with her husband, who immigrated to the States ahead of her.

The journey is cold, expensive, frightening and dangerous, and Ah Wei must navigate many perils along the way. But even when she makes it into the U.S., she encounters obstacles and pain of a different nature, and one not easily solved by a journey or a reunion.

Writer/director Elaine Wong’s short drama has many layers: it’s a poetic yet gritty exploration about immigration, a love story about a wife yearning to reunite with her husband and a poignant but painful coming-of-age tale about reconciling the gaps between expectations and reality.

The film’s subject matter offers a unique take on the loaded subject of immigration, turning a lens on Chinese migrants, who pay large sums of money to human traffickers (called snakeheads) to come to the U.S. through Mexico, a journey that can take several months.

The visuals take a poetic, subjective approach, creating a dreamscape of memory and sensation as Ah Wei proceeds along her journey. The first part of the film mixes dark, textured images of the journey with dreamy sunlit footage of California and audio of her sweet, intimate conversations with her faraway husband, the audience enters into Ah Wei’s headspace, and understands her deep yearning for her partner.

This textural, almost experimental approach keeps the focus on the deeper, more inner-directed reasons on why Ah Wei would subject herself to such danger by choosing a fraught, perilous route to join her husband, even when the nature of the journey offers moments of almost thriller-like tension and suspense. These moments are well-crafted and inject a different energy into the story, but the story doesn’t end when the journey end. In fact, as Ah Wei discovers when she is reunited with her husband, it is a whole new challenge, sending the film into a quieter, unexpected direction.

This final part of “Where Dreams Rest,” however, is really where it distinguishes itself from a typical immigration story. In focusing on the reunion of Ah Wei with her husband, the storytelling slows down to the present tense, where every pause, glance and look away registers a heavy weight. Ah Wei discovers that her most cherished dream is simply not the reality, and the gap between what she hoped for and what exists in front of her is devastating. This shift is registered with such subtle clarity and delicacy that its final sensations and feelings continue to haunt after the film’s conclusion, like an uneasy memory or a lingering doubt.

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