It's quite rare to see a documentary like this participating in the International Film Festival of Cannes.
For this year’s edition, instead, this is the case with “Qingchun” [Jeunesse (Le Printemps)/Youth (Spring)], a three-and-a-half-hour movie by Wang Bing, a Chinese director known for his real drama documentary style showing harsh, extreme and raw visions of Chinese macrocosms outside the official reports from the country.
The movie takes place in Zhili, the Chinese garment capital and one of the country’s richest cities, where all the rural youth living along the Yangtze River come to find work.
“Youth (Spring)” immerses itself in this precarious and intensely hard-working society, where hope is still allowed despite these very young people’s life is bustling in all directions, to the rhythm of sewing machines.
For five years, from 2014 to 2019, Wang Bing took his camera and filmed these textile workers closely. Actually he used three cameras to follow the various protagonists of this documentary in an area that hosts about 18,000 small laboratories where teenagers, even below-18, work at reckless rhythms for 12 hours until late at night and are paid at about €0.84 for a t-shirt or a pair of shorts.
Despite it is showing a life of hard work, of exceptional working rhythms and extremely degraded working and living conditions, the movie also makes room for wonderful moments of solidarity, love, and friendship during the long working day and as at the end of it they spend time together joking, eating, going out, falling in love and enjoying their time.
For three hours and thirty minutes, “Youth (Spring)” showed the sewing workshops to the dormitories, camera on shoulder, with no aesthetic or dramatic touches added. It also makes us understand that despite the Rana Plaza disaster happened in 2013 and caused 1,300 dead people, not much has changed within the fast fashion system.
The world of the textile worker is a subject that Bing had already explored in “Ku Qian” [Bitter Money], in 2016. Regardless, the documentary maker still felt the need to dive into this world again, as he explained to the Luxembourg newspaper Le Quotidien: "With ‘Bitter Money’, I focused on just following friends, people who I already knew, adults. ‘Youth (Spring)’ provided me with the opportunity to broaden my focus to a whole group of young people.”
The movie represents the first part of a documentary whose sequel is still being edited. True to form, Wang Bing allows himself complete freedom with regard to the length of his project. The entire version will be close to nine hours long.
This is the first time that the Chinese director is competing for the Palme d'Or, five years after other movies like “Dead Souls” were presented in Special Screenings, and a few days before the presentation of another film, “Man in Black”, in this same category.