Zhili has become known as a manufacturing region in China, in particular the largest children’s clothing production centre. Non-fiction filmmaker Wang Bing sets up his cameras in a local sweatshop and accompanies the workers in their daily lives, chronicling sewing procedures, office romances – or attempts thereof – and the joining of forces to demand wage increases.
Each new person appearing in front of the camera is introduced with their name, age and the province they come from. The textile market is seasonal and some of the characters return to their hometowns.
This first documentary back in Competition since Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme in 2004 is one that has been almost ten years in the making. It was shot from 2014 until 2019, with over 2,500 hours of footage to chose from, and the pandemic delaying the editing process. Condensing such a vast amount of material into one film is undoubtedly a difficult procedure, but clocking in at almost four hours, Youth tests the patience of even the most devoted audience. While an intentional slow pace can enhance the contemplative nature of a film (and it contains ample food for thought), in this case, the elongated and repetitive shots exhaust the viewer, making it challenging to sustain engagement throughout. Scenes of incessant mansplaining or sexual harassment feel like they could easily have ended up on the cutting room floor without detracting from the film’s key motives.
Often handheld and allowing the camera to breathe, the raw and unfiltered images don’t shy away from exposing gruelling work conditions and the toll it takes on the worker’s physical and mental wellbeing. But it is not a gloomy feature. The collaboration, the campaigning for each other, is empowering and full of hope. Youth (Spring) may appeal to those with a particular interest in social issues and a well-conditioned staying power, but it will prove challenging for others to fully appreciate its merits.
Youth (Spring) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Youth (Spring) here: