One of Taiwan’s most widely-acclaimed documentaries, and the first such film to be selected as Taiwan’s submission to the Academy Awards, Small Talk is an intimate portrait of the director herself, Huang Hui-chen (黃惠偵), and her mother, A-nu, a Taoist priestess in rural Taiwan. 

Through a series of long-shots, Hui-chen interviews A-nu about her troubled past—as a lesbian pressured into an arranged marriage at an early age with an abusive husband—and their uncomfortable estrangement that persists even after decades living under the same roof. Further conversations with A-nu’s siblings and ex-lovers produce a frank and complex portrait that reflects the prejudices and mores of a society at large, while remaining both universally significant and courageously intimate. 

Though considered taboo to question a mother’s love, Hui-chen does just that, asking difficult questions that have plagued her for many years. 

Languages Spoken: Taiwanese Hokkien, Mandarin 

“They have lived like strangers under one roof for decades, almost never talking to each other. One day, Hui-chen finally summons up the courage to sit her mother down and talk.”

After having two daughters, A-nu quickly divorced her abusive husband and raised the children on her own. Since then, she has only pursued romantic relationships with women who, like her, make a living as professional mourners at funerals. Hui-chen vividly remembers the frequent absence of her mother while growing up, recalling that A-nu would spend more time going out with her girlfriends than with her daughters. This led Hui-chen to the tormenting question of whether her mother loved her girlfriends more than her, if at all. 

Especially after becoming a mother herself, Hui-chen knew that she would have to confront the past before she can properly move on and be the kind of mother she wants to be for her own daughter.
Hui-chen confronts her mom about their troubled past, love, loneliness, and abusive father. 

The reluctance to discuss one’s emotions is especially ingrained in traditional Chinese families, which is depicted as many of Hui-chen’s conversations with her mother end in painful silence. However, this documentary proves the cathartic process and power of film as a medium to hold these difficult conversations and portrays the unspoken, emotional complexities of human life that often get overlooked in East Asian media. They explore how intergenerational trauma is passed on and affects communication and intimacy, why it’s so hard for many Asian families to talk about their mental health, and how taking small steps to communicate and be vulnerable can help release years of uncomfortable tension, anxieties, and lead to a better understanding of one another. 

Intensely intimate, raw, heart-wrenching, and 20 years in the making, this film is a must-watch for children of immigrants or anyone who has ever questioned/wondered why their parents are the way they are. 

Learn more about the Director Huang Hui-Chen’s thoughts in this exclusive interview, conducted by Eric Tsai, founder of OFTaiwan:

An Interview with Huang Hui-Chen 黃惠偵, Director of SMALL TALK 日常對話 (Eng Sub)

Awards

This documentary has received several awards since its world premiere on October 5, 2016 at the 53rd Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards, where it was nominated for both Best Documentary and Best Editing. 

February 17, 2017 — Awarded the Teddy Award for Best Documentary Film at the Berlin Film Festival.

The Teddy Award jurors commented:

Small Talk is the director’s courageous portrayal of her family story, which gives an audience an inside look at a culture that we might not be familiar with. This powerful documentary manages to be of universal significance and extremely intimate at the same time.

Teddy Awards, Jury 2017

July 15, 2017 — Awarded Best Documentary at the 19th Taipei Film Awards.

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