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  • Brandon MacMurray

Duet Review


Duet, dir. Lyuwei Chen


Duet features two main protagonists, Bright Sheng and his 11-year-old daughter Fay Fay.

Bright is a composer, conductor, and pianist who began learning the piano at just four. "Bright" is a perfectly fitting name for him, as every scene he's playing or conducting music in, he seems to radiate joy. However, he experienced the Cultural Revolution in Shanghai. His piano was taken as a Bourgeosile instrument when he was 12. In interviews, he tells difficult stories from his childhood and communicates so viscerally you feel like you're talking to an old friend. Bright's personality exudes through the screen.



Fay Fay is Bright’s daughter. Like Bright, she is multitalented. Not only does she play piano, but has a passion for art and fashion design. Although she seems uncertain that she could become a professional pianist like her father, she is one of three international students admitted to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music (Bright’s alma mater). Fay Fay is somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to piano. She gets torn up when she makes mistakes. When it is noted that none of the other children are upset for making mistakes or being out of tune, she replies with: "...because they don't care, but I care." It's the kind of attitude that pushes her to be the best as she strives to hone her craft.

From the moment you see Bright and Fay Fay together in this short film you can tell their bond is special. As Bright plays the piano Fay Fay watches and turns the pages for him, an act he greatly appreciates. In a touching moment, Bright notes: "Hopefully one day I will turn the pages for her." As Bright and Fay Fay go over a piece of music, you can see where Fay Fay's gets her desire for perfection. As she plays, Bright lovingly corrects her and demonstrates how to play certain parts. Whatever Bright points out, she seems to instantly take into account and understand, like they are on the same wavelength. You can tell going into her performance Fay Fay feels some pressure from Bright: "You make it sound like it's so big, even though it's supposed to be for fun". He assures her that it really is just for fun. After the performance, you can see how proud Bright is as he tells her to take a second bow.



Director Lyuwei Chen impressively blends many styles of documentary making into this short. With a hybrid mix of animation paired with interviews, performance, landscape shots and archival footage, Lyuwei shows how truly multifaceted she is in documentary making. Duet won the silver medal at the Student Academy Awards and is eligible for the documentary short category at the 96th Academy Awards.


Review by: Brandon MacMurray

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