So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang): Wang Xiaoshuai’s expertly sprawling yet personal examination of three decades of life in China
The deceptively sedate nature of director Wang Xiaoshuai’s latest offering camouflages a story that is remarkably involved and fascinating, if not without its challenges for the audience. But if the challenge is accepted, then the rewards are plentiful. Viewers are not spoonfed easy, self-contained resolutions, and the impact of the film only becomes truly potent when reflecting later upon what has been seen. So Long, My Son is a picture that gently washes over its viewers, encouraging them to drift with it.
Yaojun (Wang Jingchun) and his wife Liyun (Yong Mei) are relatively content with their lives until their son drowns in a tragic accident. Life goes on, although their loss and pain is never truly assimilated, to the point that they adopt another boy, giving him a life where he is essentially positioned as a direct replacement for his deceased precursor brother. Spanning more than three decades over a three-hour running time, So Long, My Son examines the human cost of China’s remarkably rapid economic development, beginning with the remnants of the Chinese cultural revolution. It tells a story of considerable scope while remaining intimate and human.
The notion of the passage of time is dealt with curiously. There is no announcement of flash forwards or flashbacks, and this can be somewhat obtuse. In some sequences it can be difficult to immediately pinpoint the setting without context, which is then established by a conversation, or by the characters venturing outside, allowing the audience to see where they physically are. Aside from one latter portion of So Long, My Son, no attempt is made to age the characters, which might have been beneficial. It’s not as though most people will go a decade without physically ageing or even just changing their hairstyle. The potentially inscrutable nature of the film’s chronology is remarked upon when Yaojun mentions that it feels as though he’s been at a certain place in a past life. A film that is methodical while retaining a sense of authenticity, So Long, My Son is a gratifyingly considerate event.
So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.