Writer-director Song Chuan’s second feature film, the French-Chinese co-production Ciao Ciao, immerses its audience in a rural Chinese world that is both ordinary and extraordinary. The movie examines the generational, regional, and sexual divides of contemporary China through the eyes of its protagonist, a young woman named Ciao Ciao (Liang Xueqin) who visits her parents (Zhou Lin and Wang Laowu) in rural Yunnan province after having lived the big city life in Canton. Ciao Ciao takes long, meandering walks around the valley and texts with her friend back in the city, her Louis Vuitton handbag flapping in the breeze. When she meets two young men (Zhang Yu and Zhou Quan), one kind and hardworking, the other a drunken brute, however, her life gets far more complicated, and it becomes harder and harder to leave home.
Song Chuan’s pace is leisurely, both visually and in terms of plot, but the piece never feels too slow; Ciao Ciao the character may be bored, but Ciao Ciao the film is never boring. Instead, the gorgeous scenery and finely drawn characters of this visual masterpiece pull the viewer deeper and deeper into the narrative, despite an ominous sense that the tension simmering just under the surface could explode at any time.
The movie benefits from a painterly awareness of composition that renders its shots of rural Yunnan province absolutely stunning, aided by vivid almost otherworldly colours – the greens somehow too green, the reds just a touch too red. Indeed, Song Chuan treats his audience to a veritable feast of breathtaking natural landscapes that, however, slowly lose their lustre over the course of the film. Viewers come to see the mountains as Ciao Ciao must see them: beautiful, to be sure, but also harsh and confining. Credit must also be given to the sound design, by Jules Wysocki, which provides a rich backdrop of crowing roosters, buzzing flies and an astonishing number of crickets, punctuated at specific intervals by composer Jean-Christophe Onno’s eerie techno sounds.
While Ciao Ciao’s coming home plot might be fairly typical, the film as a whole is anything but. Song Chuan has a quietly compelling winner on his hands.
Ciao Ciao does not have a UK release date yet.
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