Let me begin this review by possibly making a crass defense for long movies such as Wang Bing’s Dead Souls. Its eight hour running time might discourage many, but this is literally four movies for the price of one. And an intellectually stimulating movie that is also surprisingly emotionally rich.
Wang’s movie is mostly interviews of the survivors of Mao Zedong’s Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957. There are breather moments when we see these survivors commemorating the ones who didn’t. They also go on with their lives despite being on retirement age. Nonetheless, as they age we need to remember their stories.
The film does so by returning to the section of the Gobi Desert. There, the Party erected makeshift camps for these ‘rightists’. Some of it is still desert while other sections are now farms. But China has neglected to remember the fatal mistakes it made by forcing communism into China.
The movie also clarifies the record for these ‘rightists’ a group that still has a bad reputation today. Sure, right wing politics are bad now, but that was just a label during the Great Leap Forward. Even some of the Party’s most loyal cadres got that label and received punishment.
These interviews are mostly unflinching and comprehensive. These mostly men are aware of how the ‘rightist’ label affected their wives and families. These people did everything to help their men survive. Wang took more than a decade to record these accounts, showing a painstaking dedication in getting the story straight.