In black and white, The Swing Maker (Da Qiu Qiang de Ren), tells the story of a middle-aged man, Mr Liu, who has spent his working life on an oilfield. He takes under his wing a young woman worker who recently arrived and who yearns to leave not only the oilfield, but also a young male co-worker with whom she exchanges mutual, childish nastiness.
To distract the young people, Liu builds them a swing. On reaching retirement age, he has to return to the city to his estranged wife and grown-up daughter.
Da Xiong’s roots in photography are evident in The Swing Maker. The film gradually sheds the poetic and rudimentary swing with engaging views of the wild surroundings, and transitions to the different wildness of an urban landscape.
Xi’an is as much a foreign land to Liu, who left the city three decades earlier, as the oilfields were to his young protégée. It’s easy enough to grasp the propos, but the storytelling lacks substance.
From despondent fiction to daring fact
One of nine documentaries in the competition, in Jean-Michel Corillion’s A Road for Xiao Jiang, Huang Yuan-feng, comes from a small village in the mountainous Guilin countryside, the land of the Yao people.
His village Xiao Jiang, is cut off from the rest of the world because there’s no road and the river, it seems, is too difficult to negotiate. Huang left the rural area and his home where his parents still live, to obtain work and money.
Contrary to The Swing Maker, this documentary describes a positive example of China’s late 20th Century economic revolution, of “Chinese-style Socialism” heralded in by late leader Deng Xiao-ping.
“Huang is remarkable," says Corillon. "A farmer, son of a farmer, born in the village. He’s a fighter. He has worked a lot his whole life and has earned more than most people in the village. This allowed him to live in the main town of Yung Fu, to buy a car, an apartment, and to send his children to university.
"But he’s a modest man. He doesn’t like it when people say he’s a model of success. He did what he thought was best for his family. The same for the village. He’s an altruist.”
Philosophical stories from Tibet
Jinpa by Pema Tseden, set in Tibet, is also competing for the Cyclo d’Or for Best Feature. It won the Best Screenplay prize in the Horizons section at the 75th Mostra in Venice in 2018.
Tseden, also an author, writes in both Chinese and Tibetan. He says his film is about realisation and awakening, which, once it has occurred, enables people to go towards the future. It’s adapted from two novels, The Assassin by Tsering Norbu and his own work, I Ran Over a Sheep.
Out of the competition ring, a fifth of the 21 films in the “Asian Couples” section are more or less Chinese, as follows: Taiwanese Ang Lee’s 1993 The Wedding Banquet, Zhang Yimou’s 1992 Mostra winning, The Story of Qiu Ju , his 2014 Gui Lai - Coming Home, and Yin Lichuan’s Knitting, made in 2008, a 2016 Franco-Chinese period film, set in 18th century China, The Portrait of a Lady. It’s directed by Charles de Meaux and stars actress Fan Bingbing alongside Melville Poupaud.
Alongside the Chinese films in this section, which is a nod to the geographical and cultural scope of FICA, are movies from Korea, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Sahka/Yakutia-Bulgaria and France-Vietnam.