Berlinale Blog An Unblinking Look

“River Road” by Li Ruijun
“River Road” by Li Ruijun | © Berlinale

Showing Yugur People's forced change of lifestyle in Gansu Provice, Li Ruijun's “River Road” inspires us to think about what we have lost in the process of industrialisation and urbanisation.

As I already mentioned in one of my prior posts, I find it delightful to see Chinese minority groups acquire a voice of their own in Berlinale 2015. Their colourful and multifaceted cinematic expression demonstrates a dynamic movement in full swing, building on mostly Han-dominated Chinese cinema. Li Ruijun's (李睿珺) River Road (家在水草豐茂的地方), for example, tells a very personal and an environmentally conscious story about the Yugur People in Gansu Province, where he himself comes from.

Unobstructed open space

Accompanied by the music score of the Iranian composer Peyman Yazdanian, two brothers who grew up separated embark upon a road trip across the desertified land in search of their home. Completely in contrast to circumscribed scope of urban cinema, River Road is engulfed in unobstructed open space. Landscape seems to spread out till infinity; the sun shines without reservations. Also, rhythmic movement can be physically felt through the hand held camera.

A perishing culture

All these elements together beautifully season a cinema of nomadism. As extensive drought, dried-out rivers and wells, withered pasture and abandoned towns constantly surface during the road trip, it is more than clear that Li is making a statement about a perishing culture which is barely able to resist environmental degradation and invasion of materialistic lifestyle. Graziers are turned into gold miners, pasture into desert, and the presence of camels is substituted by that of excavators. Yugur language also becomes increasingly rare, to the extent that the two children in the film, who do not speak Yugur in real life, actually had to memorise their lines according to the recording of elderly Yugur People.

Through reconstruction of the endangered culture, this unostentatious film shows unflinching determination to empower voices of the nomad, the periphery, and the unheard, and offers us an unblinking look at the ugly consequences of continuous exploitation of natural resources – for which we are all fully responsible.