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Report: Culture

Sobs in the stalls as Zhang Yang's Full Circle opens French Asian film festival

Chinese filmmaker Wang Chao receiving his "Cyclo d'Or" - Golden Rickshaw
Chinese filmmaker Wang Chao receiving his "Cyclo d'Or" - Golden Rickshaw DR

A drama in a Chinese retirement home tugged at viewers' heartstrings at the start of the 21st International Festival of Asian Cinema (Fica) in Vesoul, eastern France. A bumper 36-fim retrospective of Chinese cinema follows during the week.


Zhang Yang's Full Circle (2012) is about elderly people left to rot in a retirement home in Beijing and the relationships they have or don’t have with their offspring.

It’s touching and shows 21st century China as modern and largely clean, as well as fitting in a scene with ethnic-minority Mongols.

As a family struggled to reunite and others don’t manage it, a few sobs were heard in the stalls.

The International Festival of Asian Cinema shakes up Vesoul, normally a quiet town of 17,000 inhabitants.

It was launched in 1995 by two individuals with the help of the local authorities with a view to putting their town on the map.

This year they and their team have put together a bumper edition.

It includes a whopping retrospective of Chinese cinema from 1959 to 2014 featuring 36 films; a special section on films from Laos, including one made with government approval in 1983 and which had "disappeared" from circulation - the film maker Somchit Phonsena is attending - and a focus on Iranian independent cinema which manages to survive despite being critical. Also a section called, “Hold your Breath…”, a line-up of thrillers and crime movies, some of them with a twist, say the organisers.

With films from all over Asia the festival is the only one of its kind in France, selecting from as far west as Turkey and as far east as Japan and Korea.

Bastian Mereisonne is in charge of many things for the festival, not least hunting down films in unlikely places like Laos to be shown in an out-of-the-way place like Vesoul.

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“It’s a miracle that so many people come here, and they are people who, despite the crisis, are curious, are open-minded and who want to discover and discuss,” he says.

In fact, the topmost selection criterion, says Mereisonne, is content. The festival organises Q and A sessions after the films with the many filmmakers and producers attracted to this gig.

Among them this year, Iranian Mohammad Rassoulof and Indian Nilesh Maniyar, as well as Wang Chao from China and Prasanna Vithanage from Sri Lanka, who are both members of the jury.

Nine films are - from China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kirghizistan, Korea, Myanmar, the Philippines and Taiwan - are in the main competition,

The results are to be announced at the end of the festival on 17 February, when the Golden Rickshaw is awarded.

In the meantime, the mayor of Vesoul on Tuesday gave an honorary Golden Rickshaw to Wang Chao.

Chao was also touched by the red scarf gift which accompanied the trophy, as temperatures are below freezing.

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