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‘The Nightmare We Never Wake Up From’: Nominated at Cannes, this noir film is in theaters this week

‘The Nightmare We Never Wake Up From’: Nominated at Cannes, this noir film is in theaters this week

A river flows in the middle…

In China, in the 1990s, there were three murders in the small town of Banpo. In charge of solving the case is Ma Zhe (Yilong Zhu), the head of the criminal police. A bag left on the river and testimonies from passers-by point to several suspects. As the case grinds to a halt, Inspector Ma discovers the darkness of the human soul and begins to doubt…

“Absurd and silent nightmare from which you never wake up”

Presented at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category, Only Streams of the River managed to attract Croisette’s attention with the depth of the imagery captured on film, the infectious anxiety of his characters drowning in a strange environment, but also, and above all, the darkness of his story.

Everything inside Only the river flows, expresses discomfort, inconvenience and unhealthy. Highly unsettling, the general atmosphere is gut-wrenching like a nightmare from which the audience struggles to wake up. Director Wei Shujun himself fell victim to this bad dream while reading Yu Hua’s (Knight of Arts and Letters in France since 2004) short story of the same name.

I first read this story in June 2018, after my first trip to Cannes. On The Border (short film in competition), says the director. It reminded me of Tristan and Isolde, an absurd, silent nightmare from which we never wake. This film was born from this feeling.

However, the film adaptation of Only the River Flows simply doesn’t embrace the deep darkness that permeates the short story of the same name, so taking on so many film noir codes as so many references. An additional element already present in the brilliant Yu Hua’s work allows Inspector Ma’s investigation to grow in complexity and reach dizzying depth: the sociological scope of the story, which allows it to encompass the Chinese mentality of an entire era.

The adaptation of Yu Hua’s story itself contains several elements: firstly, Yu Hua’s story of a series of murders written in the literary style of the 80s and 90s and containing themes that were very relevant at the time, on the one hand, the excessive weight of the collective soul, which burdens the individual, and on the other hand, the individual’s loneliness is absurd before the world.

The story also includes a subversive form of the traditional detective story: not only is solving the enigma not its only challenge, but the work is also more mysterious, more unexpected, more obscure than the classic detective stories, which contributed to the story being considered an avant-garde work at the time.

An unabashed homage to the greatest noir films and detective fiction, yet modern and dizzying in its subversiveness, Only the River Runs is a major work of modern cinema that astounds like the aftermath of a terrifying nightmare.

A film by Wei Shujun that you can now find in cinemas.

Source: Allocine

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