Zuo-Yue-Zi is a traditional practice in which mothers, who have just given birth, are asked to sit around and do very little the immediate month after the birth.
This includes: not washing your hair, not showering, brushing your teeth, climbing stairs, carrying your baby, crying, eating or drinking cold foods, having sex, using air conditioning, leaving the house, reading or watching TV or surfing the Internet.
The idea is to replenish the blood and fluid loss a woman goes through during child-birth and is aimed at rest and relaxation, along with ‘healthy’ foods, in order to get you back to how you were pre-birth.
That’s the idea, however, zuo-yue-zi is also known as postpartum confinement and it is fair to say not everyone is convinced it’s a good thing, that includes the medical practice who have found it can increase depression and the whole ‘not handling of your baby’ goes against their advice too.
This brings us to A Dire Strait, a short movie by writer and director Liang-Chun Lin, that recently screened at the Dances With Films festival where it won the Grand Jury Award for shorts.
It sees Demi, Christine Liao (“Broken Layers (Short)”, “Full Disclosure (Short)”), having to endure this confinement at the hands of her mother-in-law Lee Chen (“Bullet Train”, Good Trouble (TV)”), whilst her husband Willis Chung (“Fresh Off the Boat (TV)”, “Little America (TV)”) appears to kow-tow to his mothers wishes.
Demi’s father-in-law meanwhile, the unspeaking Jason Wang (“Stephanie (Short)”, “Beneath the Banyan Tree”), could be her only help in the household.
We see Demi being fed chicken soup, asked to stay in bed, being cleaned by her father-in-law whilst she is breast feeding her son Tyler. She visibly hates all of this, whilst at night she secretly takes deliveries of burgers for something other than chicken soup.
Things reach breaking point when Demi’s husband won’t answer her when she asks if they are still going to legally register their son as Tyler, rather than the Tung Tung(?) her mother-in-law uses. That and her waking up to find her long hair has been cut without her knowing.
Demi snaps, grabs Tyler and leaves, allowed out, probably by her father-in-law who, silently, appears to be the only one on her side. Will she return? What will happen when she does?
The short film is well shot, made intense by the soundless start and with few words being spoken throughout. There’s also close-ups of a struggling Demi which add to this intenseness, whilst Christine Liao is great as Demi, smiling to her mother-in-law when she must, until she can’t take it any further, then smiling for herself.
It appears, to me at least and I’m hardly qualified in the post-partum world, to be a great movie to highlight the practice of zuo-yue-zi, to make people aware of it, get people talking and discussing it, both the good and bad sides, whatever your opinion.
THE QUICK SELL
Demi has stayed in bed for weeks due to the Chinese postpartum tradition. Although she tries to be as cooperative as possible, the weeks-long confinement and endless chicken soup push her to her limit.