Raffi Tang (Françoise Yip) is living in Mexico when she gets word of her estranged mothers death. Motherland, writer-director Doris Yeungs feature debut, begins with Raffis journey back to San Francisco, where she tries for several kinds of closure. A shut-down young woman whose coming out as a lesbian ruptured family relations, Raffi spends much of the movie saying no, refusing everything from food to the settlement her father (Kenneth Tsang) is offering to tie up her mothers contested estate. Theres a lot in Motherland thats left unclear, an attempt at noir-ish ellipses that Yeung (whose own mothers murder in 2004 inspired the film) cant quite pull off. The conflict between Raffis parents isnt articulated well, so the circumstances of her mothers deathan apparent home invasion gone wronggrow more confusing as a conspiracy plot is revealed. Raffis uncle arrives from Hong Kong to make one of the films themesthe rotten underside of alluring American Dream rhetoricpainfully clear, but the main characters engagement with it feels nominal. Despite its ambitious combination of murder mystery and cautionary immigration tale, Motherland doesnt quite hold together, lacking both the fuel to reach a rolling, procedural boil and the intimacy to simmer with emotion.
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