By Sascha Krieger
Di jiu tian chang (Competition / China / Director: Wang Xiaoshuai)
Wang Xiaoshuai’s film spans the last 30 or so decades in Chinese history, telling the story of a family and their friends. This year’s Berlinale motto is „The private is political“. This film is its embodiment: on a very personal level it tells about private tragedy, personal guilt, forgiveness but also the consequences of China’s long-time one-child policy, the effects of a society in which even your private lifestyle can become a crime and the price individuals pay for the market-economy reforms. When the political enters the private, the price might be unbearable. Wang floats through the times with ease. Time is not linear, the past remains present and the present often seems past. Events repeat, scenes mirror each other, there are tunnels and passages, symbolising the connections that haunt these lives and make them possible. Wang’s narration emphasises this. His images are calm, gently flowing, often standing still, just as time does and at the same time cannot. The pale warm light of that moment when spring first announces itself lingers on, it connects life and death, births and funerals. There are second chances and repeated failures. The second time repeats the first if lessons aren’t learned. Forgetting is hard, secrets can save but also allow the hurt to continue. The present-day China has nothing in common with that of the past and yet they are hardly distinguishable at a deeper level. Often the camera remains in mid-distance, sometimes, as in the case of the central tragic event, it looks on from far away, from the present into a past never quite understood. Distances are hard to overcome – for the camera, the viewer, the characters. But it’s not impossible. „So long, my son“ reads the English title and hints at the core of love that prevails through all the mistakes, the social pressure, the betrayals. Love proves strongest through all the turmoil, it is what gives hold and hope. The love is passed on from one generation to the next, and it must be hard fought for but will not permanently be rejected. The final scenes: a gathering by a graveside, a smile during a phone call: peace with the past opens up a future. Will it be different? No-one knows. Until then, the world has this deeply moving masterpiece.