Return to Dust

2022 [CHINESE]


Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 94% · 16 reviews
IMDb Rating 7.7/10 10 1577 1.6K

Plot summary

Humble, unassuming Ma and timid Cao have been cast off by their families and forced into an arranged marriage. They have to combine their strength and build a home to survive. In the face of much adversity, an unexpected bond begins to blossom, as both Ma and Cao, uniting with Earth's cycles, create a haven for themselves in which they can thrive.

July 03, 2023 at 07:39 PM


Ruijun Li

Top cast

720p.WEB 1080p.WEB
1.15 GB
Chinese 2.0
25 fps
2 hr 8 min
P/S ...
2.37 GB
Chinese 5.1
25 fps
2 hr 8 min
P/S ...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by wurideflame 10 / 10

Ashes to Ashes Dust to Dust

Two people who were abandoned by their families are arranged to start a family. They support each other in their efforts to live, struggling to build a small shelter, and then losing it in an instant. When the humble house returns to dust, the traces of the couple's existence in the world also return to dust.

Reviewed by liangzihan 9 / 10

Panda and Donkey, a missing Chinese movie

In 2022, a film about rural life in China, "Return to Dust", was released. This film was nominated for Best Film at the Berlin Golden Bear Awards in the main competition. At the same time, the film sold more than 100 million tickets at the box office in the Chinese mainland market, far exceeding the previous films of the same genre, and has also caused a fierce public argument about this film. Some people think that the film is smearing rural China, which is inconsistent with the official picture of a well-off society that has been completely lifted out of poverty. Others believe that film inherits the tradition of Chinese realism in film. It is the embodiment of the conscience of Chinese filmmakers and is a kind of attention paid to the marginalized people in China.

Leaving aside these ideological debates for the present, I personally think that the most commendable thing about this film is its characterization. The director especially prefers to use delicate composition and rich visual elements to support the character portrayed in the film. This film builds a typical image of a farmer in northwest China-Lao Si. He is still living in the house of his brother and sister-in-law even though he is over fifty years old. Although he has to work non-stop for his brother every day, he is still despised by his family. To let him leave his home as soon as possible, his brother finds him a disabled woman, GuiYing, who is in a similar situation to marry. As a result, two socially marginalised people come together.

The first shot of the film is a long shot. A loess wall appears in the picture, and there is a square hole in the middle of the wall. Someone shovels soil from the hole, but the person who is shoveling cannot be seen. From off-screen, a female voice is shouting "LaoSi", and a donkey appears. The square hole is like a close-up shot in a long shot, and this close-up shot is the head of the donkey. At this time, the audience have no clue about who LaoSi is. It is possible to mistake the donkey for Lasosi. Such a misreading is intentional, because later, when the protagonist of the film walks out from behind the donkey, a metaphor is born on the screen: Laosi and the donkey have similar characters and destinies.

In the next scene, there is a medium shot with the camera at eye-level Shot. LaoSi is eating on the bed, facing a mirror, which reflects the image to the audience. Next to the mirror is the open door by which stands GuiYing, who is patting the donkey that is on the same level as LaoSi in the mirror, and the donkey is eating at the same time. It connects what happens inside and outside the house through the reflection of the mirror. GuiYing appears to be patting the donkey, which in reality means that she is patting Lao Si. This also proves the fact that the two will get married later.

After LaoSi and GuiYing got married, they went to burn joss paper for LaoSi's parents. Here is a long shot. The foreground is the burning paper money and the characters telling their dead parents about their marriage. The background is the donkey rolling happily on the ground. The camera is behind them, overlooking the whole picture. LaoSi is a poor farmer, and his emotions are implicit and restrained. When he speaks to his deceased parents, his is calm, and the film uses the donkey to express the joy of Lao Si's marriage.

At this point in the film, the story has progressed to a point where LaoSi's destiny is closely bound with the donkey's sad life. Then the following stage begins. The father of a rich man in this village is sick and needs Rh-negative blood. So the villagers are called on to find for people with this blood type. Some villagers say that LaoSi is the only one with this special 'panda' blood in the village. When they mention "panda" and LaoSi, the villagers joke that LaoSi is panda, the panda is a national treasure, and LaoSi is also a national treasure. The villagers all laugh.

The symbolized relationship between LaoSi and the donkey has been explained earlier. It is obvious that the noble panda has nothing to do with lowly donkey, and even forms a stark contrast to the poor and marginalized life of LaoSi. Here, the ridicule of the villagers shows that LaoSi is not only a marginalised person at the bottom of the economic ladder, but also a marginalised person in social interpersonal relationships.

There is a long shot of villagers squatting under a large ceremony platform, the villagers only accounting for less than a quarter of the screen. On the ceremony platform are the village cadres and the wealthy, and they are in the middle of the scene. Their position is higher than the villagers in the picture, which shows the unequal power and socioeconomic status between the two groups.

The background of this scene is the magnificent auditorium and a half-exposed Chinese national emblem. Although the direct symbol of the country is not fully visible in this shot, the large and magnificent auditorium seems to be a metaphor for the ubiquitous authority of Chinese government, even in the remote northwestern countryside.

The ceremony platform accounts for up to three-quarters of the picture, visually squeezing the poor and the wealthy people below. On the beam above the grand ceremony platform, there is a mottled word "ZhengTongRenHe", which means that the political enlightenment is smooth and the people are happy and harmonious.

There is a contrast between the life presented in the film and the harmonious society vigorously promoted by the Chinese government. Ironically, the film was abruptly pulled from theaters without an official explanation, and the real life in the remote mountains depicted in this film was buried.

Guiying died in the end of the film, and LaoSi chose to commit suicide after releasing the donkey. Possessing 'panda' blood, it seems that he can only be liberated by dying even though he possesses the precious 'panda' blood, but the donkey, which is merely livestock, is alive and free. The nobility of blood does not bring LaoSi a noble status in society, which in turn adds tragic power to the film.

In summary, this film not only uses the subtle composition to express the relationship between the donkey, Lao Si, and Gui Ying in a single shot, but also expresses an profound understanding of current state of society as well as division of social classes in China.

Reviewed by Blue-Grotto 9 / 10

romance and intriguing picture of the current affairs of China

She lovingly cradles a little cardboard lightbox from him with holes that make her room appear like it is full of stars, and he gently places wheat husks on her wrist in the shape of flower petals. This late blooming romance between a poor farmer and an abused woman fills them each with such overwhelming happiness that anything seems possible. A rainstorm that washes away their work of many days, a demolished home, oppressive cold, and poverty, are nothing compared to their love. They find pleasure and wonder in everything; a nest full of swallows, hatching chickens, a wandering donkey, and bottles built into the roof of their home that make the wind sound like it is playing a melody. Still, the challenges of living in modern China constantly test their resolve, patience, and determination.

In addition to being a captivating and tender love story about a mature couple, Return to Dust provides an intriguing picture of the current affairs of China and the ways the developments are affecting the lives of rural populations, food supplies, and China's soul. People are encouraged to move to 70 story apartment towers when their homes are demolished, farms are flooded for massive hydroelectric projects, and artisans are replaced by machines and factories. I witnessed these issues at play in a visit to China in 2018.

It is heartening to witness this loving couple appreciate the small joys of life and peacefully accept adversity, and devastating when society seems to want to grind them into the dust in pursuit of questionable goals. "Where do our chickens, donkeys, and pigs live?" they ask when they are pushed to move to a condo. The couple is so kind to people and animals, and their greatest treasure is each other, so you wish them and those like them all the success in the world.

Screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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