Film Review: Return to Dust

Making a film in China is a tricky business at the best of times, but when it’s a period of heightened political activity the censors are on guard for anything which in any way could besmirch the ruling party or its leader. While Return to Dust had proved to be a success in the PRC, with the Chinese Communist Party’s showcase congress on the horizon it suddenly disappeared from streaming sites. Even before then, the authorities demanded that the ending was edited. It’s still a remarkable film.

Ma (Renlin Wu) and Cao (Hai-Qing) have both been mistreated by their families. As the only unmarried brother, he’s ridiculed and left to look after his donkey. Disabled and incontinent, she was abused by her family and has been beaten into timidity. When they’re married off, the pair are initially shy around each other. However, as they embark on a simple farming life, they slowly become close and eventually fall in love. If only they could be left in peace.

Return to Dust is a beautifully made drama which highlights the plight faced by ordinary Chinese citizens living in the countryside. It’s works thanks to the gentle chemistry between the two leads and writer/director Ruijun Li’s willingness to let events play out, while also focussing on the minutiae. Not to mention Weihua Wang’s sumptuous cinematography and a script which often opts for actions rather than words. Return to Dust tells the tale of two outsiders finding a home together. It’s a wonderful work of cinema.

Return to Dust is out in cinemas in the UK on 4 November.

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