Another Story about the World War II

in 48th International Film Festival Rotterdam

by Rasha Hosny

Perhaps World War II is the biggest and most important historical event that has been featured in cinema and films through several points of views, some of them were psychological and the others related to the impact the war horrors left on the soldiers or their families. In addition, the social and economic points of view that are related to the impact of World War II on the participating societies and countries, and also on the social behaviors produced by the crises of war and beyond. However, World War II is still very fertile for stories narrated through films, in addition to shedding light or identifying many of the events or horrors of this war that may still be vague as in the film Winter After Winter (Dong qu dong you lai, 2019) which revolves around the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1944 and the way the Japanese troops for forced young Chinese men to labor.

Through the film, director Xing Jian features a Chinese family, of which the Japanese army detains two of its sons to send to northeast China to work, while all that matters to their father is to keep the offspring of the family since the war may reap its able-bodied men. He forces the youngest son to impregnate his sister-in-law after his second son’s escape from the Japanese. The youngest refused, as he is unconvinced with his father’s wish, while the third son is impotent. But, before the father’s plan is implemented, the Japanese arrest the two brothers. After a while, the youngest son returns and his sister-in-law hides him in the basement of the house without his father’s knowledge, and supplies him with water and food every night. She finally sleeps with him and becomes pregnant. She then decides to announce that to the father who is very pleased and decides to keep the child. He decides to arrange a sham marriage between her and the Teacher’s village-idiot son to cover for the pregnancy.

Director Xing Jian represents this simple, romantic family story through long scenes to reflect the state of waiting that the family and the father live in; his waiting for the return of his children, knowing their fate; for the child who is the hope of life, the future, and the continuation of his descendants; and waiting for life after war and the return to normal routines, as the director expresses the static state of life captured with a still camera that barely moves or follows any characters.

Jian chooses to make his film in black and white, perhaps to feature the limited life options of the film’s characters, as they have no choice but to sleep, hide, and eat meals to the extent that they are guaranteed to survive. The antithesis of winter snow in the background of the dark scene of the characters of the film serves perhaps to add in one way or another on the nature of those characters, to suggest a dreamer’s optimistic side within them, which represents the color white in contrast to the bitter reality and the nightmare that they live on a daily basis over the years, represented by the use of black.

In a smart gesture, the name of the son’s wife and the only woman appearing in the film is Kun, which means ‘land’. She symbolizes the homeland, which bears life’s hardships in the face of a ferocious war and an unjust reality, but she never gives up her hope for a better tomorrow that is represented by the child she gave birth to. Women are always the distinguishing mark in the darkest of times.

Rasha Hosny
Edited by Savina Petkoba