So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) press conference with Wang Xiaoshuai, Du Jiang, Ai Liya, Yong Mei, Wang Jingchun, Qi Xi, Zhao Yanguozhang and Liu Xuan
The cast and crew of So Long, My Son know how to make an entrance. At most Berlinale press conferences, the talent emerges from a side door of the Grand Hyatt’s ballroom and simply walks up to the podium. The sizeable contingent from So Long, My Son in fact came out in a conga line, before each introducing themselves and profusely thanking the assembled press for being there (which is always appreciated). Director Wang Xiaoshuai has created a sprawling epic of a film that details the lives of a Chinese couple over some 30 years. Intelligently critical, the feature offers a number of pertinent appraisals of Chinese society over the decades, including the human ramifications of the country’s breakneck economic development. The film’s political observations have become even more topical, since One Second (Yi miao zhong), another Chinese movie scheduled for Berlinale’s competition was abruptly withdrawn just days before its premiere. The film’s non-appearance at the festival is ostensibly due to “technical reasons,” but rumours have abounded that One Second sparked the ire of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China at the very last moment.
Director Wang Xiaoshuai opened proceedings by talking about how he hopes So Long, My Son will find an international audience, but also how the film will feel especially relevant to Chinese viewers. “I think Chinese audiences will feel a lot of resonance with this film, and when it’s shown in China, I’m sure they will feel that. There are references to special policies that changed people’s fates, and that’s unavoidable because that’s what we lived through. What I’m interested in as an artist is more people’s flexibility, and their ability to love, and their inner benevolence in China. My parents and grandparents have undergone so much, so many different changes, but they’re still very brave and optimistic in the way they approach life, and in the way they try to achieve a better life. And that’s a very moving thing, and I hope that comes out in the film as well, because that’s what I was trying to do.”
It’s sometimes a case of forgetting how Berlinale takes over the entire city, with advertising for the festival absolutely blanketing the German capital. Actress Qi Xi talked about getting off the plane and almost immediately seeing a poster for her film. “A couple of days ago when I arrived in Berlin, I was at the airport, and I saw the name of the film in English – So Long, My Son – and I was suddenly close to tears, because I worked for nearly two years on the film, but this beauty and this love – I was holding it within myself, and then I finally saw the name of the film on the poster. I sent a text message to the director straightaway, and I was really very moved, and I hope that if you are as moved as I am, you will be able to put your weight behind it, and I very much hope you enjoyed it.”
Discussing the withdrawal of two Chinese films from this year’s Berlinale selection, Wang Xiaoshuai said, “There have been unexpected things that have happened with the Berlinale this year, and that’s had an impact on everyone, and on the Berlinale. I was on the plane when the news came out, and I only heard about it when I got off the plane, and I was quite shocked. I really felt for them as well, because it’s a very tough process for any director to make a film, so I really sympathised with them. Zhang Yimou’s [the director of the withdrawn One Second] first film came to Berlin in fact, and we’ve been influenced by his cinematic oeuvre – he opened our eyes and he took us onto this path, so I was really looking forward to bringing my film to Berlinale, together with Zhang Yimou’s film. I can’t speculate further on what has actually happened, but I’m very sorry about it. And also on that other film directed by a very young director [the Chinese film Better Days, directed by Derek Kwok-Cheung Tsang, which was withdrawn from the Berlinale prior to the festival’s start] – it’s a very important moment for somebody to be able to bring a film to the Berlinale, and I’m very sorry for him that he’s been unable to come this time around. Now, we have always been conscious of the need to respect all of the rules and parts of the system, and we need to keep working with that. I don’t think that my film will encounter any particular difficulties, because we have followed all the procedures in this case.”
Photo: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.