TIFF 2022: Our Review of ‘Return to Dust’

Posted in TIFF 2022 by - September 16, 2022
TIFF 2022: Our Review of ‘Return to Dust’

Ma Youtie (Wu Renlin) and Cao Guiying (Hai Qing) are not the perfect couple, but living in northern China, their families arranged for their marriage. Youtie, who goes either by Fourth Brother or Iron, is in his middle age and needs to marry to make way for younger relatives. Guiying, a victim of many kinds of abuse, is someone who can’t physically perform.

Regardless, after their wedding, they endure many tribulations together, including their multiple trips so Iron can donate blood to a relative (Yang Guangrui, or raising livestock, or rebuilding a hose brick by brick to appease another or the same relative’s schemes. He does more of the talking but when they have conversations they find solace with each other against their cruel world.

There’s an intimacy to these characters, as if this film, Return to Dust, is allowing its viewers into their humble home. The dialogue is sparse and instead both actors rely on their physicality to express their character’s complex emotions. Their rare conversation open a window to their pasts, and director/writer Li Ruijun shows us how they find commonalities despite the occasional argument.

Iron and Guiying toil away everyday, and Return to Dust shows an irony by showing the beautiful landscapes they can only partly enjoy because of their busy lifestyles. There are layers to the colours and the visuals that Li show in depicting his homeland. This is a bittersweet love story, the most memorable in the fest and one I’ll hang on to.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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