Asian Cinema Triumphs in Rotterdam

Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s The Cloud in Her Room (2020)

The key takeaway from this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam is that there’s a promising new generation of filmmakers from Asia whose work is winning over audiences and juries alike. On Friday night, the IFFR’s top prize, the Tiger Award, went to The Cloud in Her Room, the debut feature from Chinese filmmaker Zheng Lu Xinyuan. Jin Jing plays Muzi, a twenty-two-year-old who comes back home to Hangzhou and finds that she barely recognizes the place. “Fresh, candid, and strikingly intimate, this hybrid between documentary and fiction featuring nonprofessional actors represents a bold and unconventional female voice from China,” writes Wendy Ide in Screen. “Jump cuts flick through half-remembered conversations, skipping over the painful bits perhaps, or just needling around the key events. At other times, the striking black-and-white photography is more pensive and preoccupied, unfolding in longer, languid takes, reflecting Muzi’s mercurial moods as she reconnects with her home.”

At the Film Stage, Leonardo Goi finds that a “curious kind of sadness percolates through Zheng’s enigmatic universe.” And the jury—Visions du Réel artistic director Emilie Bujès, artist Hafiz Rancajale, and filmmakers Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now), Kogonada (Columbus), and Sacha Polak (Dirty God)—calls The Cloud in Her Room a “graceful portrait of a certain global generation paralyzed by modern alienation and capitalism.”

This year’s special jury award goes to South Korean filmmaker Kim Yong-hoon’s first film, Beasts Clawing at Straws, a neonoir starring Jung Woo-sung (Asura: The City of Madness) and Jeon Do-yeon (Secret Sunshine). In the Hollywood Reporter, Neil Young finds that Jeon seems to be having “a ball here as a calculating, delightfully ruthless, and amoral femme fatale of the old school. She dominates the second half of the film, during which the various elements of the plot click together with smooth precision as the bodies start piling up.”

The Bright Future award, presented to the best debut feature, has gone to Moving On by Yoon Dan-bi, another young filmmaker from South Korea. In Yoon’s gentle family drama, a divorced man moves into his father’s three-room apartment with his two children, and shortly afterwards, the aunt fleeing a broken marriage joins them. “When I first saw Good Morning by Yasujiro Ozu, I felt he was a good friend of mine, even though I don’t know him,” Yoon tells Screen’s Michael Rosser. “I just hope my film can be a friend to someone too.”

Only You Alone, the second feature from Chinese film critic Zhou Zhou, has scored the award from the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), which calls the story of a young dancer with epilepsy “a film which brings a touching story about loneliness and about daring to be different in modern Chinese society.” And Bong Joon-ho’s black-and-white version of Parasite, which is seeing a limited release in the U.S. in the run-up to Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, has won the audience award.

A complete list of all the awards is here, and for more on IFFR 2020, let me recommend Diego Semerene’s report for Slant and two pieces in the Notebook. Evan Morgan writes about Labyrinth of Cinema, the new film from Nobuhiko Obayashi (House), suggesting that it “has the densest diegesis of any movie made this century—save perhaps those signed by Jean-Luc Godard.” And Sean Gilman surveys Ordinary Heroes: Made in Hong Kong, an “extraordinarily well-constructed series” programmed by Shelly Kraicer that explores “decades of poverty and helplessness among the populace, the actions taken to address these injustices, as well as a close-up look at the protests of the past five years: the Umbrella Movement of 2014 and the as-yet-undefined and unresolved movement of today.”

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