This post was updated Feb. 26 at 4:48 p.m.
An Instagram comic depicting a ghost intent on taking out the trash inspired the plot of Yimeng Yuan’s video, “The Melancholy of March.”
Jumping off the idea of an adorable ghost, the fourth-year art history student is directing a three-minute video following a father and his 8-year-old child on a picnic. Unbeknownst to the father trying to enjoy the excursion, his child interacts with a ghost of the same age. Despite featuring a ghost, Yuan said the film takes a lighthearted tone through the children’s interactions while exploring a strained father-child relationship.
“The (child) can see the ghost, (which is) a sign of innocence,” Yuan said. “He believes in something that might exist but might not exist as well, but the father, at his age, (is) losing that … version of reality.”
To heighten the film’s surreal nature, Yuan chose to have the ghost appear no different than the child. However, the father cannot see the ghost and the ghost does not appear in shots with him.
Producer Laze Huang said the film shows that the ghost is otherworldly. However, the audience will not realize until a later scene that the ghost is not another child when it approaches a mirror and produces no reflection, said the fourth-year electrical engineering student.
“We’re just using that as our way of telling the audience that (the ghost is) different than another person,” Huang said.
Cinematographer and Chapman graduate film production student Sherry Qian said she plans to work with natural light in the outdoor picnic scene to create saturated colors to help create a colorful, lighthearted tone. Qian said the crew chose to film the ghost and the child at their own height, rather than from the elevated position of an adult, to bring the audience into their world. Utilizing wide shots will also make the actors appear even smaller than they are, heightening the sense of surrealism, Qian said.
To shy away from potentially darker undertones that often accompany ghost stories, Huang said actors will utilize subtle facial expressions during misunderstandings between the father and the child. For example, the child and the father argue over a plate, but will not act in an over-the-top manner, to stray from an over-the-top portrayal.
The father-child relationship overall is awkward, as the father cannot find words to express his love for his child. Yuan said this is paralleled by the decision to eschew dialogue entirely from the film. The lack of dialogue paired with minimal facial expressions also adds to the dreamlike quality by removing a major mode of communication. The child, whose youth fosters creativity and imagination, is able to see the ghost attempting to get the attention of the father who no longer exists in this childlike state, Yuan said.
“He’s inexperienced, and the father also is a shy human being so he does not talk much and he does not act much,” Yuan said. “He cares about the kid but he does not know how to verbally express it, and that makes the tension between them a little bit awkward.”
The lack of a mother figure also complicates the relationship between the father and his child, Yuan said. The title is inspired by a painting entitled “Mystery and Melancholy of a Street,” which depicts a lone child playing in a street. Yuan said she wanted to take a more lighthearted spin on what she considers a somber painting by focusing on the child’s and the ghost’s interactions. The title’s initials also read MOM, which emphasizes the absence of a mother figure.
Although the video does not portray a complete family, the most pervasive channel of lightheartedness comes from the interaction between the child and the ghost. Their normalcy distracts from potentially darker tones associated with death and ghosts, Huang said.
“The story itself is not going to be very straightforward. It’s a bit mysterious because the audience may not get the essence of the story right away,” Qian said. “They might have a different interpretation of the story.”