“Water also feels like subconsciousness to me — it’s shapeless but seeps in everywhere. You can’t stop water. It both nourishes and drowns you.”
Haolu Wang’s short film The Pregnant Ground is a gripping tale of a woman navigating the traumatic loss of her unborn child and is both horrifying and heartbreaking.
Wang uses fantasy elements to burrow into the head of her lead actress (Lu Huang, Little Fires Everywhere) and create a tense atmosphere throughout.
From the acting, to the sound design, Wang has perfectly combined every element of the film to create a beautiful, if not unnerving, portrait of a woman dealing with grief.
The Pregnant Ground was part of the Femme Filmmakers Festival and took home The Dog Tooth prize, Best Female Performance for Lu Huang, and Best Sound Design.
To learn more about Haolu Wang and to watch The Pregnant Ground, CLICK HERE.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got involved with filmmaking.
Haolu Wang: I loved cinema growing up, but didn’t have the chance or courage to pursue filmmaking as a career until I was 25 while working in an investment bank in Hong Kong. I watched Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona one night and it shook my world. That film alone gave me more meaning than all the economics education I received in America. I picked up a camera and learned filmmaking from scratch. I made a short film film by myself which got me into the National Film and Television School in the UK. I graduated last year with an MA in Directing Fiction.
Tell us about The Pregnant Ground, and where the idea came from.
HW: I was struggling with the idea of motherhood at the time — being a married woman, I felt social and family pressure to become a mother, but I questioned it. I felt alone in my internal conflict — it seemed to me that most women should automatically embrace “motherhood”. It was something expected of us. I had a problem with that expectation and developed a rebellious urge to portray an absolute nightmarish vision of an expecting mother, perhaps in a way to explore my worst desire / fear at once.
At the time, a lot of roadworks were happening around my apartment block. One day I was taking a walk and saw a group of men digging a raised road bump open. I projected my obsession with maternity onto that road bump — the road seemed pregnant. Suddenly it looked rather symbolic — many men intruding on a woman’s “pregnant body”. It all started from there. The whole story developed quickly and organically afterwards.
The sound design in the film is stunning, can you speak about why these details were important to the story?
HW: It’s perhaps a personal taste in filmmaking — I’ve always focused on sound design as I find it a crucial part of storytelling especially when exploring a character’s subjective, internal world. I wrote sound design details into the film script and started the collaboration with the sound designer Ines Adriana very early on. It’s a very intimate, emotional and immersive story.
Sound design effectively brings the audience into the character’s subconscious psyche without the audience being aware of it. It gets under your skin. For a film that blends fantasy and reality, sound design also helps bridge the gap between the two worlds by charting a coherent psychological journey.
Lu Huang gives a breathtaking performance, what was it like working with her on such an emotional character?
HW: It was a great collaboration. She understood the character intuitively. I only talked about the story once to her before we started shooting. Other than that, she only had read the script. We didn’t meet before the production dates — she flew in from China the night before. We didn’t rehearse or discuss the psychology / meaning behind the character’s actions. I wanted to keep the performance simple and realistic, and avoided getting into abstract, analytical talks. On set, I mostly fine-tuned her performance. It was natural, easy and organic.
The Pregnant Ground deals with the traumatic loss of a baby in such a unique way, why did you decide to mix fantasy and reality in dealing with her journey?
HW: It wasn’t a conscious choice to be honest. I see no boundary between the dream world and the real world. I don’t know where the imagination ends and reality starts, and vice versa. Isn’t it all perception? But it is important for me that the fantasy sequences are rooted in her emotional reality, as an extension of her inner world.
Can you speak about the water in the film and how you used it to explore her trauma?
HW: Water is an essential element in the film — water is life. The amniotic fluid in the womb. The blood in our veins. The tears we shed. The film is about a woman dealing with the loss of a life inside her. She experiences an “emotional draught” inside, and a literal draught in her environment. The water shortage in her flat echoes her loss — the amniotic fluid, her baby, her blood. Water also feels like subconsciousness to me — it’s shapeless but seeps in everywhere. You can’t stop water. It both nourishes and drowns you. In the end, after she deals with her grief and swims out of the pool of water where the tragedy happened, clear tap water re-enters her home. She wakes up from this nightmarish draught and restarts her life.
Can you tell us about some/all of the other amazing womxn/non-binary people who worked on this film?
HW: We had an almost all women crew during and post production. Besides myself, the women crew included: producer Yanling Wang, DoP Sara Pantoli, editor Mirjam Jegorov, production designer Qingling Zhang, sound designer Ines Adriana, 1st AD Elaine Mackenzie, 2nd ADs Sarah Laurent and Anke Netthofel, 3rd AD Georgie Cox, Production Manager Lisa Killeen, Production Coordinator Hannah Cole, Art Director Becka Oxland-Isles, Compositors Ysabel King, Cecile Ceppi, Colourist Liz Glennard, Costume Designer Izzy Lovett, H&M Danielle Duncan-Rosembert, DIT Julia Brown, among others.
We were also a very international group of people from over ten countries. Only when the production started, I realised that I was surrounded by a talented bunch of amazing women (and men of course!!). We didn’t exactly plan this.
Tell us about why you are a feminist and why it’s important to your filmmaking.
HW: I love women and I’m passionate about telling women’s stories. I didn’t “become” a feminist… I guess I just am? I’m more curious to know… why isn’t every woman a feminist?!
As a filmmaker, I can really only tell stories that interest me, and those all feature complex women characters, simply because they feel closer to women in reality. I guess if we give enough attention to anyone, we find complexities in them and their stories. And I want to give that attention to women. I’m hugely into expressing the individuality of women, independent of their “social functions” as mother / wife / girlfriend. I want to explore women’s secrets and desires, and I’m not interested in justifying their actions. I externalise women’s intriguing internal worlds in stories which are confrontational, imaginative and at times dark and controversial. I suppose I like to present complex, bold and unconventional women characters as they are, without much explanation, and let the audience simply react to them.
What are you working on now/next?
HW: I’m working on two feature films, both script / financing stage. One is a Chinese psychological thriller film with fantastical elements, centered around an intriguing female psychiatrist with a missing husband. As the story progresses, we slowly discover what she did to him and why. I’m still working on the script. The project was selected at this year’s Shanghai International Film Festival’s feature project pitch forum. The other is an English language science fiction love story about an estranged married couple, adapted from a short story by a British novelist. The script is nearly ready.
Finally, recommend one #MUFFApproved film for our blog readers.
HW: My favourite film last year is Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Celine Sciamma. Though it’s a period film, I find the film incredibly modern. It’s what Celine chooses to show and not to explain. A simple shot following Marianne’s arrival at the house, showing her smoking by the fire, sitting on the wooden floor, all nude, but not at all sexualised. It feels liberating as we rarely see women in such unguarded moments. It’s not what we imagine Marianne will do then, especially in that era. She is simply making herself comfortable. And that’s what’s radical about it. She is just enjoying herself. Celine patiently shows how women enjoy themselves, express their desires, and listen to Vivaldi. I think it’s really about the filmmaker’s own gaze — cinema doesn’t lie. It expresses exactly how you see women and the world. And I’m sure Celine Sciamma is a feminist filmmaker!