Lou Ye China city Wuhan film stars covid-19 actor wellness Rhythm Bay Lou Ye China city Wuhan

‘An Unfinished Film’ Review: Lou Ye’s Docufiction Covid Chronicle Captures the Strange Slippage of Time

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Siddhant Adlakha Nostalgic docufiction that morphs into a lockdown thriller, Lou Ye‘s “An Unfinished Film” is the second work at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (alongside Jia Zhangke’s “Caught by the Tides”) in which a “Sixth Generation” Chinese filmmaker has repurposed their old films to create something new.

The line between reality and drama blurs as Lou genuinely re-discovers years-old footage, and proceeds to follow a fictitious film crew completing an abandoned project, only for China’s severe Covid-19 lockdowns to interrupt their work, as well as life in all its rhythms.

Few films have so skillfully captured the way Covid caused such traumatic temporal disruptions in its early days, wherein sudden changes in physical and emotional routine caused time to both stretch and collapse.

The foundation for this dissonance is laid when Lou, by way of director character Xiaorui — played by Mao Xiaorui, Lou’s assistant director on several films — begins revisiting his abandoned indie drama starring the now-successful actor Jiang Cheng (Lou’s long-time collaborator Qin Hao), the de-facto protagonist of “An Unfinished Film.” As the cast and crew reunite in late 2019, after a decade apart, old footage played in an editing bay — collected from outtakes and B-roll on Lou’s “Souzhou River,” “Spring Fever,” “Mystery” and “The Shadow Play” — serves as an anchor for conversations about how each of them has changed, including playful comments about Xiaorui’s weight gain.

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