To Live to Sing (Huo Zhe Chang Zhe)
To Live To Sing is Chinese-Canadian Johnny Ma’s second feature premiering at Cannes. The movie follows the inevitable decline of a Sichuan Opera Troupe, whose home is one of the last buildings to be demolished in a new redevelopment site. It’s only a matter of time before the group must sing their last song. They must update with the times if they are to keep going. It’s a familiar tale helped by rich colours and dream-like sequences.
For an ensemble film centred on the lives of the company, To Live to Sing‘s script skims the surface of its characters. Not only does the society no longer call for a theatre troupe but also it becomes clear that they themselves doesn’t necessarily want to be there either. At the heart of the tale is Zhao Li (Zhao Xiaoli), the unyielding backbone of the group who refuses to accept the times have changed. Zhao Xiaoli gives an intense performance (bolstered by her operatic background) that is at once fiercely strong yet subtly fragile. Through her, we experience the surrealist elements of the film. Her recurring nightmare of the theatre’s destruction, and the reappearing dwarf who guides her through the backstreets of the town. The oneiric elements of To Live to Sing attempt to elevate the drama into something more but they never quite succeed in raising the stakes of Zhao Li’s internal conflict.
The cinematography is decadent in comparison to the dusty town. Matthias Delvaux as director of photography turns the demolishing of the adjacent buildings into lengthy shots echoing the routines of the troupe. The excavator fells the bricks like a sickle into a barren rubble pit ready for new high rises to emerge. The combination of Ma’s style and Delvaux’s images leads to long stretches of screen time without any action. We watch nothing but time passing. The old must make way for the new. It is inevitable. Ultimately, the film lags but at times it is a poignant portrait of fighting tradition and art in the ever-newer world.
To Live to Sing (Huo Zhe Chang Zhe) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.