Cast: Isa Yasan, Kalbinur Rahmati
Asian Future Best Film Award, 2018 Tokyo International Film Festival
International Jury Grand Prize, Generation Kplus, 2019 Berlin International Film Festival
Slipping past the Chinese censors on its way to top awards in Berlin, the gorgeous A FIRST FAREWELL is heart-shatteringly good. Drenched in the beauty of Uyghur homelands, Wang Lina’s remarkable debut feature is an ode to the filmmaker’s home province and an urgent look at cultural assimilation from a young person’s point of view. Working with non-actors and without a screenplay, A FIRST FAREWELL shifts registers between doc and narrative, heartbreak and unbridled joy, an even more amazing feat with the three children at the center of its coming-of-age story.
Wang, who is Han Chinese from Xinjiang Autonomous Region, switched gears from making a doc to crafting a narrative after discovering young Isa from an essay in which he wrote: “Mom can’t hear or speak. I communicate to her with my eyes.” What results is a portrait of Isa and his best friend, the spirited Kalinbur, who together roam vast fields, sand dunes, and old poplar forests while dreaming shared futures, co-parenting a lamb, and walking miles in search of Isa’s deaf-mute runaway mother.
A FIRST FAREWELL gives us a rural life full of purpose and beauty, from a joyous Islamic Eid festival, village decisions on Isa’s mother’s care, and Isa’s profound insistence on family before everything. It’s also a life that slowly erodes before our young hero’s eyes from the pressures of Mandarin education, so much so that every time children recite Mandarin in school, we all die a little. In the end, A FIRST FAREWELL leaves us with Isa and Kalinbur’s remarkable friendship and their tender accumulation of joy and loss, as well as Wang’s own cinematic love for a home land on the cusp of irrevocable change.