“The Return of the Swallows”, a beautiful and harsh film about the rural world censored by Beijing

Wu Renlin et Hai-Qing dans « le Retour des hirondelles » de Li Ruijun. (QIZI FILMS LIMITED)

In a Chinese countryside where time seems to stand still, here is the magnificent story of two unloved people who will learn to love each other. Their marriage was arranged by their families, who despise them and thus want to get rid of them. He, Ma Youtie (Wu Renlin), is a shy old boy, whose only companion is the mule, pulling a plow and an ageless ploughshare; she, Cao Guiying (Hai Qing), is a wobbly young woman, who walks askew and suffers from urinary incontinence. Although their union is the object of a repudiation, the two introverts will become inseparable. Both majestic and humble, “The Return of the Swallows” (in theaters February 8), sixth film by young Chinese Li Ruijun, takes its time – 2h13 – to exalt the overwhelming tenderness of this destitute couple, following the cycle of bird migrations and the seasons in the fields, planting corn and wheat, harvesting, haymaking , harvests…

During filming, which lasted eight months (from March to October 2020) and whose budget was derisory, the naturalist director also transformed himself into a peasant, he plowed the land of his native province of Gansu and gathered the ripe ears, in order to respect, as closely as possible, the exhausting and ancestral work of its characters. At the end of the film, they are offered to leave their poor hovel to settle in a brand new building in the city. They refuse, preferring to stay with their chickens and their pigs in vast and deserted landscapes. They want to continue living in a dying rural world.

The director and his producer no longer have the right to speak

This harshly beautiful film, whose tragic, censored ending has been replaced by a less gloomy epilogue, was released in China on July 8, where it was a phenomenal success, before being withdrawn on September 26. , rooms and platforms. For the authorities in Beijing have realized that Li Ruijun does not praise land reform or fierce urbanization, nor does he exemplify the “end of absolute poverty” decreed by Xi Jinping’s Party. Since then, the director and his producer no longer have the right to speak. Despite multiple pressures, ARP (to whom we recently owe “No Bear”, by Jafar Panahi, still imprisoned in Tehran) has nevertheless decided to distribute it in France. Run to see him. Because it is, in each shot, great cinema. And because the humanism and pantheism that emerge from it are a way, both discreet and imperious, to resist.

The Return of the Swallowsde Li Ruijun, avec Wu Renlin, Hai-Qing. En salles le 8 février.

Source : Nouvelobs

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