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Senior Citizen Kane: So Long, My Son

Wang Xiaoshuai

An ambitious project four years in the making and spanning three decades of Chinese history, the latest work by Sixth Generation filmmaker Wang Xiaoshuai is a magnificent family saga with the breadth of a sweeping popular novel. Defying the fast-forward thinking that has informed China's economic reform since 1978 – its rapid race towards a more prosperous future resulting, often, in a disregard of the past – Wang crafts protagonists who dwell on their tragic histories and feel the need to rewind painful memories again and again.

"A magnificent family saga with the breadth of a sweeping popular novel..."

The central trauma in So Long, My Son is the death of Liu Xing, 12-year-old son of Liu Yaojun and Wang Liyun. Moving from the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution through the new ‘socialist market economy’, with its sudden riches and social inequalities, and in the shadow of China's one-child policy, Wang paints a grand historical fresco about family and parenthood, the private and the political, and the process of mourning.

The film's storytelling, which moves back and forth in time, allows for a fluid and poetic depiction of the memories of one extended family against a backdrop of an ever-changing China. Powerful performances by Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei, winners, respectively, of the Best Actor and Best Actress Silver Bears at this year's Berlinale, render with formidable authenticity the tragic intimacy of a grieving couple growing old against personal and social upheaval. Wang's mesmerizing narration lasts 180 minutes, barely enough time to spend with these complicated, conflicted characters.