China, Drama, Films, Recommended posts, Reviews

Return to Dust

The story of the arranged marriage, set in the dying Chinese village, showing the beauty of rural life…

The winner of the Black Dragon Audience Award at Feff 2022, and the part of the Berlin International Film Festival competition, Return to Dust, fascinates the spectators with its simplicity and poetic narrative, unforgettable images, and brilliant cinematography turns watching the movie into an amazing experience.

Return to Dust is an unusual love story written and directed by rising Chinese star filmmaker, Li Ruijun. The story revolves around a middle-aged couple that meets through an arranged marriage. Youtie Ma is a hardworking, quiet man, who is fairly content with his simple rural life. Cao is a timid, abused woman with a health condition, which makes her unable to hold her bladder or have children. Their relatives decide to marry them to each other because they’re tired of taking care of them.

During their first meeting, we see Ma taking care of his donkey, and this simple scene has a significant meaning. Cao sees Ma being nice to the donkey, and she understands that he’s no threat to her. The first days of their marriage are awkward and silent, but eventually, Cao and Ma grow fond of each other. Li Ruijun brilliantly shows the hardships and beauty of simple rural life. The small village, where the story is set, is emptying, people are leaving their homes and moving to the city, hoping to improve their lives. The village is surrounded by sand dunes, the wind spreads dust through the village, and everything looks abandoned, even though some people still live there. The unusual couple finds love while working on the land, trying to make their house a home. One of the best parts of the movie is the cinematography by Wang Weihua, who shows the daily routine of the couple with great accuracy and somehow finds the beauty and poetry in their lives. The aesthetical pleasure of some of the scenes is unforgettable.

Most of the screen time is given to the two main characters, but there are other people, who are ruthless and cruel all the time.The background story of the film is the illness of the wealthy local landlord, who has the same blood type as Ma, so Ma, who is the most giving and gulling person, gives him blood regularly. This part of the story has a really interesting figurative meaning, the person who sucks the life and resources out of the village, has to literally take blood from one of the villagers. The other people who live in the village are not nice either, they trick Ma and mock Cao, because of her health condition regularly, but Cao and Ma are not self-pitying people, they just don’t care about others, and find peace in their everyday life, while taking care of animals and land.

Return to Dust, a delightful and tragic love story shows us that happiness can be found in the hardest times, and the darkest places. The personal story of two people reflects and criticizes the reality of dying Chinese villages and the bittersweet ending of the movie predicts the future of rural China.

Return to Dust is a poetic, sad, and very beautiful depiction of a simple life. It is not always easy to watch, sometimes the scenes are too long, but if you get hooked to the storyline, it becomes a meditative experience that amazes you with beautiful, satisfying images.

Return to Dust screened as part of the 24th Far East Film Festival 2022.

Liza Alpaidze is a member of the #FEFF24 Campus 2022. has partnered with the campus for the fifth year running, helping young journalists from all over the world to cover the festival and get experience of having their work published. You can find out more about the campus here.

About the author

Andrew HeskinsAndrew Heskins Liza Alpaidze
Liza Alpaidze is Tbilisi based student of film studies at Ilia State University and an author at Hammock Magazine.

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