The Chinese artist who goes by the name Maleonn (his work encompasses puppetry, theater, photography, machine engineering and more) is himself the product of a rich artistic heritage. His mother, Zheng Wei Tong, was an actor, and his father, Ma Ke, directed both the Beijing Opera and the Shanghai Opera.
In the documentary “Our Time Machine,” Maleonn’s mother makes an interesting admission. When she and her family were confined to a labor camp during the 1970s Cultural Revolution, she was unable to endure the work. Noting that pregnant women were exempt from it, she became pregnant with Ma Liang, who would become Maleonn.
The child’s relationship with his father was initially distant: Once his family was released from the camp, Ma Ke worked obsessively, only deigning to pay attention to his son once he was able to speak to him as an adult.
Directed by S. Leo Chiang and Yang Sun, “Our Time Machine” shows Maleonn, an energetic and still boyish-looking fellow now in his 40s, enlisting his parents as collaborators in a multidisciplinary work called “Papa’s Time Machine.” The work is a tribute to his parents and also a way to preserve portions of the past, which are slipping away from Ma Ke as dementia erodes his memory. The movie begins with a quote from H.G. Wells about how each of us has our own time machine: memory to visit the past, dreaming to visit the future.
This often visually beautiful movie sometimes ventures full-time into Maleonn’s own dreams and is frank in its depiction of the conflicts in the family — as well as of Maleonn’s struggles to be a good son and an active artist, as his ambitions for the project run ahead of his financial resources.
Our Time Machine
Not rated. In Chinese, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 26. Watch through virtual theaters.