Return to Dust (in-person & online)
Wu Renlin, Hai Qing, Yang Guangrui
Screened in Competition at the Berlinale, writer-director Li Ruijun’s (Fly with the Crane, River Road) luminous neorealist drama is an absorbing story about a transformative relationship that defies expectations.
Both middle-aged, both single, Ma Youtie (Wu Renlin) and Cao Guiying (Hai Qing) lead difficult lives in a remote, rural part of China. Ma is a reticent farmer exploited by his siblings, while Cao suffers from various health problems. Long past what’s considered marrying age in their community, disdained by their families, they expect the worst when they’re forced into an arranged marriage. But gradually, amidst the hard work of building a home and farming the land, they begin to care for one another, finding an unexpected space in which to thrive.
Navigating topics such as the exploitation of farm workers, forced urbanisation and the uprooting of traditional ways of life, Ruijun – shooting in his birthplace, Gaotai, in the northern province of Gansu near the Mongolian border – depicts his characters and the fragility of their existence in an elegiac, beautifully shot and scored film that’s infused with a melancholy poetry and humanity.