The story unfolds in a small village in Gaotai (the director’s home region), which is being whittled away as its inhabitants move to the cities for work. The towering sand dunes nearby provide an evocatively dusty metaphor for what the future holds: due to a government edict encouraging the demolition of uninhabited structures, dwellings are worth more to their absent owners as piles of rubble.
This is a worry for Youtie Ma (Wu Renlin) and his new wife Guiying Cao (Hai Qing) as upon their marriage, briskly arranged by family members no longer willing to support them, they move into one of those empty houses only to have to relocate to another when the municipal bulldozers show up.
The movie is beautifully shot, with picturesque landscapes and the images of the shifting seasons. As a portrait of the dying end of a traditional way of life and the rapid decimation of China’s outlying rural communities, ‘Return to Dust’ is potent, often poetic in its encroaching dustbowl imagery. As a meditation on the rewards of later-life companionship, it is elegiac, blessed with two unusually sympathetic, restrained performances. After Edinburgh’s UK premiere, this is the first screening in the South.
Our thanks to Modern Films for this film.