A Changing China
Tanja Wessels, Alice Kok
Portugal’s Film Festival, IndieLisboa saw a strong presence of films from Macau and Mainland China
Portugal’s Independent International Film Festival, IndieLisboa saw a strong presence of films from Macau and Mainland China at its 2017 edition. Feature film Ciao Ciao by Song Chuan was one of the competing titles.
“China is going through dramatic changes. Its civilization, based on agriculture since ancient times, is being completely countered by the impact of so-called modern civilization. However, traditional values remain intangible in the face of reality. They have to adjust to a deeply anxious reality,” says Song Chuan.
The director of Ciao Ciao - the story of a young woman returning to her native village after several years of working in Guangzhou - believes that “the gap between rural areas and cities is constantly shortening” and that the values are increasingly unitary, which does not mean they are better: “It seems that only money can save our souls”.
Filmed in Yunnan, Song’s home province, Ciao Ciao also looks at the condition of women in China; the way moderately well prepared young people face “a huge survival test”.
“They have to sacrifice themselves for continued subsistence capital. This is sad and inevitable. The search for a better life by women has also become vague. It seems that only money can make them feel safe. Seen in this way, it’s a morbid lifestyle,” says the director.
Ciao Ciao is Song’s second feature film and premiered worldwide at Berlinale. Earlier, Song directed Huan Huan, a film shot with natural amateur actors from his village. But don’t expect a compassionate or idealized image of rural China. Migration, corruption, issues such as alcoholism and prostitution are well present in this second film and in the history of its central character, the young Ciao Ciao.
“When she returns and tries to adjust, the reality of rural life becomes very strange. Before she can return to a normal life, she quickly finds herself involved in a strident reality of alcohol, gambling, prostitution, corruption and migration. This is an indisputable truth about rural China. Confusion has become the normal state for most people in China. They just do not know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
In the film, there is also space for a love story, or at least for an apparently cruel character who believes in love: Li Wei, the boy who falls in love with the protagonist Ciao Ciao. According to Chuan: “Li Wei believes that love is a kind of instinctive reaction. It is perhaps the love elegy in the spacious noisy reality.”
The filmmaker stresses, “in the social value system dominated by money, the intercourse between power and money becomes inevitable; emotional space becomes precious.” In the emotional realm there is an “intangible invasion” of money.
Ciao Ciao is based on facts and was born from Chuan’s interest in exploring the migratory issue and the lives of uprooted human beings.
“Everything is the same for them, wherever they are. I believe that the actual reality [in China] will finally change, but can only end through the process of growing and dying without outside interference.”
Macau cinema was strongly represented at this year’s IndieLisboa edition by five films. IndieLisboa programmer, Carlos Ramos, sees this presence as “a challenge to the viewer to get to know a new cinematography. As Macau begins to intensify film production, it is important for IndieLisboa to cast a glimpse of what is happening in the region.”
The program lineup included Sisterhood, the first feature film by Tracy Choi, who was present in Lisbon for the session and who is considered by Carlos Ramos to be “one of the main voices of the region’s cinema and the voice of a new generation”.
There was also a set of four short films - O Cravo by António Faria; Crash, by Hong Heng Fai; The Roar of a Mother Bear by Doug Kin-Tak Chan and Cake by Tou Kin Hong.
“These stories of Macau present different cinematographic proposals about the city. The films presented were produced in the last six years and are very different from each other, even if they all capture the city in its most cinematic aspects. These are stories that intersect with the history of this city, marked by the encounter of different cultures and mysteries,” says Ramos.