Opening 14 Nov 2019
Yaoyun (Jingchun Wang) and his wife Liyun (Mei Yong) live in a small Chinese harbor town. They work in a metal factory and live in one room in the factory’s dormitory. Their young son Xingxing watches his friends playing at the beach and decides to join them. This sets off a disaster which hovers over the rest of the film. Having lost their son, the parents move south into the area of Fujian which is completely strange to them - both in the way of life and unfamiliar Chinese dialect. They leave behind another couple which also has a son, born the same day as Xingxing. Later there is an adopted son, who does not reach their expectations, nor soothe the sorrow of having suffered a loss. Children wearing white blouses, red ties, black pants, and white shoes appear in a choir. There are problems, which evolve into demonstrations in the factory where Yaoyun and Liyun work.
I saw this 185-minute film entirely in Chinese without having any understanding of the language except for about 10 words. As there was very little text, I could still follow the lives of these people, as well as enjoy the beautiful photography of the mountains, the town, the harbor, the boats, the sea, There was also very little background music, so that the general atmosphere is stillness, quiet. It covers about 30 years of a family from 1978 to 2011 in modern-day China, touching on the one-child family policy, the contributions of factory workers, and opportunities for success. Meals three times a day are important, so that the small family is always sitting around a table, eating once again, after Liyun has spent long hours cooking in the common kitchen. There are flashbacks to their lives before leaving the village, their return to the village, children growing older. It's not always possible to recognize each character at different stages, which might not even be possible if one saw the film in a familiar language, although I can imagine viewing it again in a language I know. More important than details is the general overall impression. Jingchun Wang and Mei Yong won best actor and actress, respectively, at the 2019 Berlinale Film Festival. (Becky Tan)