When The Sky Was Blue
The film explores themes of anxiety and inter-generational trauma.
On a Sunday between meals and chores with her family, ten-year-old Leah re-lives a series of memories, not all pleasant. There’s a disturbing disquiet in this unremarkable on the surface family, while personal tensions simmer and boil beneath the banal preparations and family greetings and sharings. It’s a meditative and wistful glance into the intersectional identities of being Chinese-Australian.
When The Sky Was Blue highlights complex cultural and female energy across generations, with the connection between mother and daughter as being revitalising for both, under strained circumstances, in a bilingual Chinese/Australian family. 10 year old daughter Leah is torn between the desire to please her parents and the need to forge her own identity.
Leah secretly wonders what it would be like to have a different nose while an aquarium fish swims in a restricted space. At home Leah finds her own pet fish dead and is nauseated by having to scale the fish the family is having for dinner. Leah’s mother Li-Jing faces her husband’s indifference regarding dinner plans and searches the expansive blue sky.
It has an archive-y feel, and was shot on 16mm evoking a rich tradition of Australian independent filmmaking. Like memory. Dreamlike even though mega-realistic. Language issues spark drama and conflict around sensitive family flashpoints like identity and belonging. Touch and affection are also complicated across the family; a difficult reserve.
A series of reimagined memories from writer/director Rae Choi’s childhood, When the Sky Was Blue explores themes of resistance and acceptance within the context of Chinese-Australian identities. The film delves into the nuances of inherited narratives and love languages, depicting the struggle of knowing you are loved but not always feeling it. Ultimately, it reaches for embracing imperfect expressions of love, as both mother and daughter strive to do their best.