Return to Dust
The controversy of its sudden disappearance from China’s cinemas aside, Ruijun Li’s drama is a moving portrait of peasant life.
Cao (Hai-Qing) has been forced into a marriage, by her brother, with Ma (Wu Renlin), a farmer with little to his name. The awkwardness of their arranged nuptials soon gives way to an acknowledgement of growing affection between the two, mostly borne out of their combined struggle to survive.
Return to Dust is affecting because of its simplicity, Li captures the cadences of everyday life, where little happens yet everything carries great import. A change in the weather can be a boon or bear disastrous results for the couple. A drop in temperature can mean the difference between an easy life or one of discomfort. But through it all Cao and Ma come to rely on each other, their partnership seeing them through every obstacle. The film, a surprise domestic hit, is believed to have disappeared from Chinese cinemas and streaming sites because it presents an image of the country that authorities are keen to dispel. Yet it is in the nature of the film’s characters, in their willingness to fight together to survive, that Return to Dust is such an essential film.