If it took a little while to find its way to the French theaters, the beautiful first film by the Chinese Yuan Qing had already packed in 2018 the emissaries of Libe at the Venice Film Festival and then at the Pingyao festival, directed by Jia Zhang-ke. In favor of the latter, we had met the young filmmaker (then 31 years old) and tried to retrace with her both the journey and the context of frantic transformations of the country and its cinema, having yet given birth to such a safe and serene, with deep Rohmian accents.
"My parents teach at the Beijing Film Academy. The cinema has always been like a childhood friend, who never seemed distant or unreachable. My taste has changed a lot, of course, and it’s only in the last two or three years that I started to understand films like Rohmer’s, to like this very natural tone, in relation to life. Rohmer is like a good teacher, a good friend. Wong Kar-wai and Woody Allen's films could also be important. In China, I like Jiang Wen, Lou Ye, and Jia Zhang-ke's early films. I’ve seen a lot of movies thanks to pirate DVDs: when I was in film school, there weren't really cinemas devoted to author cinema in China like today, it’s just starting. ”
"I don't think there is still a large audience for an art cinema in China. My film had its premiere in Venice and I was able to experience the difference in cinema culture between there and here. For the Chinese, this type of realistic tone, of narrative rhythm linked to everyday life, is not obvious. I think it will take time, even if today a lot of Chinese students go to France or the United States, have access to a lot of films, and that creates a real cultural break. The mad runaway of the Chinese economy does not lend itself to a good reception of this type of slower films. But it will come when the economy calms down a bit.
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"Society-wide, a lot is happening all the time, with great dramatic intensity, and people expect movies to be a drama like that. Slower or naturalist films will not sufficiently seek the feelings of the public, in the current perception. In Japan, it was only after the economic crisis, when the fever subsided, that filmmakers like Kore-eda were able to establish themselves with some success. When I see films from the 60s made in France and in Europe, I think that we are facing the same questions today in China. "
“The previous generation of filmmakers had the chance to change their lives thanks to the cinema. My generation was born in a more comfortable situation, which undoubtedly makes them less ambitious. Despite my time at film school, I do not identify strongly with a generation that would be mine. But if this one – which is not yet the one that has been able to travel and eat a lot from abroad – has a particular responsibility, it is to document the specificity of being all unique children born of a policy family planning. This is a unique situation, which will undoubtedly remain isolated in history. This policy having been abolished, I imagine that the future will look at us with curiosity. "
"When I imagined my film, I wanted to start with a story about a girl traveling. It was done like that, with a French actor, a British composer, a German co-producer, a Sino-Malaysian investor. I didn't want to make an international film, but it was built that way. Malaysia has this strangeness and familiarity connection to China. Chinese people over there (about a quarter of the country's population, editor's note) speak Mandarin and use Simplified Chinese in writing, it’s much closer to us than the Cantonese language spoken in Hong Kong and the South, or to the accent of Taiwanese. Beyond the issues specific to the character and the sentimental narrative, my film evokes this facet of the Chinese experience, going so far to find sort of cousins in a mixture of otherness and familiarity. "
"Young Chinese filmmakers are taking on a lighter tone, less serious issues, this is something really new in the history of Chinese cinema. I do not like confrontational reports, so it is not my primary instinct as a director, but it is a pity that we cannot deal with the crucial issues encountered in China. If everyone turns away from these questions, it's going to be a problem. For my part, I dream of making films wu xia pian (martial arts), old-fashioned kung fu movies – maybe that will pass me by. There are no longer so many films of this genre, and the current rules of censorship do not really allow us to talk about ancient times. If you want to make one, you have to invent a fictional, anhistoric era. Before, there were a lot of series that talked about the ancient emperors. Now we can't anymore, so we make films about their wives (Laughs)."
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