Coffee Ring Films, 2015
📷 : Used with permission, Trevor Zhou
Movies/shows with heart, positive vibes, warm message
“Remember to stay light.”
Many people have become fond of the phrase “invest in experiences, not things.” The platitude suggests that fulfilling experiences will bring more long-term happiness than prized possessions, which quickly bore us. Such emotional journeys as learning a new skill or traveling to another country also make for better stories to share. Less often stated is the importance of sharing these experiences with people you love the most. The Waltz, Trevor Zhou’s touching short film, encapsulates both of these sentiments through the eyes of one affectionate couple.
The Waltz follows Ling, an immigrant mother and wife who takes up dance lessons in order to shake up her routine. She becomes invested in her new hobby to the point of shutting out her husband Jian, who wants to support her despite his busy work schedule. Several weeks into the class, Ling’s teacher confesses that he must end lessons in order to return to his home country and take care of his sick mother. He mentions that his family must take priority over anything else, prompting Ling to reflect on her relationship with Jian. As her class is coming to an end, she greets Jian coming home from work and, much to his delight, teaches him the waltz.
Ling’s desire to take dance classes stems from the loneliness she feels, largely due to the absence of her son. Combined with Jian’s work schedule, the fact that her son never visits makes her feel neglected. Her interactions, even with complete strangers, amplify these feelings. For instance, at the grocery store, she gets a nasty attitude from the cashier and the man behind her in line while trying to redeem multiple coupons. These experiences are consistent with those of many immigrants, who are subject to the impatience or irritability of others not comfortable interacting with them. When she spots the flier for waltz lessons, she sees an opportunity to not only take up a new pastime but join a community.
The Waltz brings to mind a recent Academy Award Best Picture winner, CODA. CODA’s protagonist, Ruby, struggles to balance her newfound passion for singing with her efforts to be supportive of her family. Ling in The Waltz experiences a similar struggle. While Ruby’s family is dependent on her communication skills and labor, Jian simply needs Ling’s companionship.
The film’s theme can be summed up in just a couple of moments. The first moment comes when Ling admonishes Jian about moving her things out of the garage to make space for a dance floor. The other occurs when she tosses some of her own things to recreate the same open space. Her dance teacher’s words ring in her ear during the latter of these two moments: “Remember to stay light.” While he is referring to footwork in the midst of the waltz, Ling applies this advice to her familial situation. She makes the conscious decision to choose experiences over things and, furthermore, shared experiences over isolated ones. The waltz itself is a dance for companions, yet in her haste to learn, she shuts out her most loyal one. As they reconcile at the end, we see that Ling has learned to balance her newfound interest with her love for Jian.