Yin Ru Chen Yan / Return to dust (Berlinale review)
Ma and Guiying lead lives that are similarly sheltered and difficult. He is a reticent farmer, the last of his family to remain unmarried; she is disabled and infertile, and long past what is considered to be marrying age in rural China. Their arranged marriage, uniting two people who are accustomed to isolation and humiliation, would appear to force them into a relationship that will make life worse for both of them. But instead, they seize the opportunity to rise above themselves and discover their shared destiny. They learn how to become close companions, how to speak up, how to care for each other and even how to smile. All this in spite of the hard work required of them by their quintessential bond with the land and the trials that await them on their common path.
Ma and Guiying are the characters that nobody cares about on their community. Both are almost invisible, when the holder of the earth where Ma works needs some blood, and he is the only one tested to be fit to save him, it seems that is the moment that most of his peers learn about him. He and his wife start to build a strong, even if it’s unlikely connection, starting to achieve together some successes. We see them grow some chickens from eggs, plant and do other field related jobs. We see them build a whole new house from the top down by themselves. All these, while in the background we experence topics like their exploitation, urbanisation, the change of life in rural China, the birthplace of Li Ruijun, the director.
At points the film is like watching a documentary on farming and house building. The shots from Ruijun are long and point out the world view of his characters and their everyday life. In some of the sequences the most neurotic viewers might forget the characters themselves and meditate on looking them performing their tasks, like making the building stones one by one to finally start building the house. In between these long shots, we see the relationship of the two growing, parallel to the house or the crops. They are not always loving and understanding with each other, but they seem to build on steady ground. Their dialog is simple as is the life they live, and so basic that at times the film might bore the viewer, but their – loving in its way – relationship is a cinematic story that rarely is being depicted in modern cinema, reminding us of other better eras.
by Li Ruijun
with Wu Renlin, Hai Qing
People’s Republic of China 2022
Chinese, Subtitles: English, German