Directed by Wang Bing
Official Selection, 2016 Berlin International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2016 Hong Kong International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2016 Locarno International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2016 Toronto International Film Festival
One of the world’s most esteemed directors of marginalized people finds a community of subjects at the southern China border, where thousands of ethnic Ta’ang refugees have been fleeing armed conflict from Myanmar since early 2015. Director Wang Bing structures the movement of the Ta’ang people, focusing primarily on women and children, over the course of four days and three nights, with few narrative signposts beyond the grey morning skies and the darkness of camp after sundown.
The latter contains the film’s most extraordinary set-pieces, long conversations around a campfire. Women talk about their days, their livelihoods, or anything else that comes to mind. The effect is visually and aurally mesmerizing. Wang’s camera allows few close-ups so we see not only who speaks but how others listen or how the children rest their heads after a long day’s journey, the flickering fire illuminating their families. Wang reveals not the tragic toll of refugees, but their sociality, their adaptation, and the ordinariness of survival. They discuss very real dangers, but to Wang’s cinema, dangers are as much facts of life as taking care of kids, squeezing onto a truck, or physically preparing to move from camp to camp.
As he often does, Wang frames his subjects visually within the context of community, or in the backdrop of their environments. No wonder the subjects never feel the burden of emotional “performance” though they frequently acknowledge the camera. The women and children of TA’ANG are given the distance to live and to find the kinship to survive in each other’s presence, a communion as warm as the glowing campfire itself. –Brian Hu