Film review: Return to Dust (2022) by by Li Ruijun

‘Previous methods’ meet modernity in its purest brutality in Li Ruijun’s drama “Return To Mud”, a surprising proof of life’s injustices which have the tendency of pouring on some folks’s heads bucketwise. When they don’t precisely pour over the top of Ma (Renlin Wu), the least cherished of many brothers, than the heavy rains do. However as the great man may be very a lot used to it, he takes no matter comes with the calmness of somebody who doesn’t want a lot of life, and has even much less to lose.

Return to Mud” screened at Berlin International Film Festival

Li takes us to the huge landscapes of Gaotai and its environment on a journey by all 4 seasons and completely different phases of radical adjustments Ma is met with throughout that point. It isn’t solely his life that will get impacted by the sudden look of land builders. The entire group must face new, out-of-the-blue rules concerning the housing coverage and consequently, a attainable lack of land. Some might be fast to embrace the chance to maneuver to the town, and others must weigh their choices. Ma will personally undergo one ready-to-tear-down home to the opposite, taking it as one thing he can’t change and subsequently gained’t lose a phrase about, however he’ll ultimately construct his personal factor, patiently forming one brick after the opposite from the mud.

Earlier than something of it turns into actually related, there’s solely Ma and his sudden, organized marriage to a different outcast – Guiying (Hai Qing), identical to him, one other middle-aged burden to a broader household of ‘well-wishers’. As soon as they’re off their kinfolk’ becks, nobody rally cares what is going to come out of that bond, nor do they ever get guests to investigate about their well being. This alone needs to be sufficient to make the story wave its fantastic cloth across the easy premise of two loners discovering their luck, however there’s something lacking. That is possibly resulting from an extended intro and an insuficient portion of luck dominating the display screen to ascertain the bond between the principle protagonists and the viewers. On the similar time, it’s a relationship hardly ever seen on large display screen – easy, pure-hearted and stripped of drama. As an alternative of a lot dialogues, we’re provided small stolen moments of just about utterly silent, non-sexual intimacy.

An awkwardly tied liaison between Ma and Guiying clearly does turn out to be one thing extra, deeper and sincerer than anybody of their group has, however other than not taking part in on that ticket with sufficient depth (elaborating extra on it will embrace spoilers) “Return to Mud” is slightly talking concerning the quick time we’re given on this earth and the speedy, cruel change in life tempo we’ve been experiencing the final twenty years. The commercial mill is crushing villages and rural communities, reworking them into same-looking pungent components of a bigger capitalist equipment. The land is meant to be ‘taking care of itself’ as soon as within the fingers of huge agricultural conglomorates, and fingers that used to work it earlier than might be busy with one thing else, in one other stomach of the economic beast. As a local of Gaotai and farmer himself, Li tasks his romanticised picture of the realm on the display screen, selecting the ‘outdated methods’ over modernity, and there’s nothing flawed in it. However he likes it outdated, outdated, with plow pulled by a donkey and all work finished manually, like there isn’t any mid approach for each protecting the love for the land and saving the again from bursting in half.

There’s a third siginificant character within the film, a distant cousin of Bresson’s Balthazar, and a real star of the display screen. The anonymous donkey will observe wherever the spouses transfer and it’ll function a silent connection between them and the land.

Relating to the forged for the roles of Ma and Guiying, it’s fascinating to see Renlin Wu – a neighborhood inhabitant of Gaotai and pesant himself with the ability to play tête-à-tete with a giant star like Hai Qing and giving the impression like he’s by no means finished anything in his life. Though he acted in two of Li Ruijun’s earlier movies, these roles have been a lot much less demanding.

Relating to cinematography, Wang Weihua actually sticks to the movie’s title and we are able to virtually style the mud particles in our mouths. However he additionally is aware of how to enliven the display screen by embracing the limitless corn fields of their lavish magnificence together with his lense.

“Return to Mud” was in the principle competitors of Berlinale which can most likely safe its probabilities of travelling to additional festivals.



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